WHITE PLAINS – For Sean Crowley, it was a hug one year in the making. With just seconds left in Saturday night’s Class B championship game, the 6-foot-5 Briarcliff senior and his fellow starters subbed out and Crowley collapsed in the arms of coach Cody Moffett, sobbing.
“All year, since last year, every day I think about losing that game and how close we were,” said Crowley, whose team lost to Woodlands in this game last year. “I remember I couldn’t hit a free throw in that game. Now, I’m lost for words.”
The Bears returned to the County Center to make amends and accomplished their goal. The top seed beat No. 2 Putnam Valley 53-42 to win the program’s first Section 1 title since 2007.
Briarcliff (23-1), which won its 22nd straight, will play the Section 9 winner, Marlboro or Spackenkill, at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh in the state regional semifinals. The Bears suffered their only loss to Marlboro 56-52 on Dec. 4.
“With our seniors having lost last year, this was their last shot at a gold ball,” said junior Jack Reish, who had 21 points and 13 rebounds and was named MVP. “We were just excited and happy to get it done for them.”
Briarcliff started forcefully, racing out to a 16-2 lead in the first quarter. Putnam Valley (21-3), which hadn’t lost since Jan. 7 at Briarcliff, shot 0 for 15 in the first quarter and didn’t make a field goal for over nine minutes. But the Tigers answered with a run of their own and eventually pulled in front 19-18 at halftime.
The Bears took a breather at halftime and returned a different team. Their defense proved to be especially sharp in the paint. Senior Josiah Cobbs denied Putnam Valley’s top perimeter threat Harrison Deegan and his teammates slouching off shooters to surround big man Joe Spinola.
Crowley, who served as the help defender, blocked seven shots in the game.
“We just defended,” Crowley said. “In the first half we played a lot of subs. In the second, we stuck with the first five. Nick Beninati did a great job on Spinola, who is a crazy good player. Nick was a huge key for us.”
Player of the game: Jack Reish, Briarcliff. In addition to his double-double, Reish was the safety net when Briarcliff started to struggle against the pressure. He broke the press effectively and was steady at the line, shooting 7 for 9.
Stat line: After its 0-for-15 start, Putnam Valley finished 16 for 64 and went 3 for 23 from 3-point range. … Deegan led the Tigers with 16 points. Spinola had nine points and 13 rebounds. Both were named all-tournament. … Crowley joined Reish on the all-tournament team. He posted 10 points and 10 rebounds. Cobbs scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half.
Quotable: “We don’t look at it as a big deal,” Briarcliff coach Cody Moffett said of his team’s winning streak. “If anybody loses at this point, their season is over. If you’re .500 and you’re here, that doesn’t matter. If you lose, you’re going home.”