Talk about strange games…both New Paltz and Ardsley came into the quarterfinal round of the State Class A basketball tournament after “miraculous” wins just to get there. The Huguenots used three overtimes to beat Saugerties by one point (and the Sawyers’ eighth-grade phenom Dior Johnson’s 38 points) to win Section 9; while Ardsley used a 55-foot “throw” with 0:01 left on the clock to beat Tappan Zee by a point to win Section 1 (Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess and Rockland).
In the quarterfinal on Friday, March 9 at SUNY New Paltz, neither team had much left in their tank, but Ardsley — thanks to a tour de force performance by Zeke Blauner — had just a bit more. At least through the first three quarters. The fourth, for New Paltz, was a true nightmare. Held scoreless for the final eight minutes, Ardsley broke open a 35-31 game to start the final quarter with 12 straight points — ten of them from Blauner — to win 47-31.
It was an ugly game right from the start: missed shots, bad passes, fumbled opportunities, as each team tried like hell to let the other control the tempo. New Paltz scored just six points in the opening eight minutes (two free throws from the usual high-scoring Axel Rodriguez — as it turned out his only points of the game — a jumper from the baseline by triple overtime hero Mike Holohan, and a layup by Brian Ackert off a nice inside pass from Holohan), with Blauner scoring eight straight (four on a three-pointer on which he was fouled) of Ardsley’s 12 first quarter points.
Down 18-8 a couple minutes into the second quarter, Casey Burke came alive, scoring ten points, with a baseline jumper cutting the lead to 25-21 at halftime. Christian Burda added a big three midway through.
New Paltz went down 33-25 midway through the third quarter when Kenny Verney hit a huge three and Holohan followed with a layup (off a nice feed from Burke) and one-of-two free throws. It was 33-31, but Blauner cut through the porous New Paltz defense on a drive down the lane and the quarter ended 35-31. New Paltz was fighting to stay within reach, but outside of Ardsley’s Blauner, neither team had much going for them. He was unstoppable, his energy seeming 100% more than New Paltz or his teammates. And the tall, lithe Ardsley guard turned it on in the final eight minutes:
Blauner hit on a runner from the baseline — New Paltz came back down and missed; hit on a drive along the baseline — New Paltz came down and missed; hit on a breakaway off a New Paltz miss…and it was suddenly 41-31. The New Paltz drought continued, even affecting their foul shooting, as Burke, normally a 70-80% shooter from the line, missed both after being fouled on a drive down the lane. Ardsley quickly responded with a pair of free throws to make it 43-31, then it was Blauner to finish off the Huguenots with two successive breakaways off a blocked shot and a defensive rebound to give Ardsley the win. The Huguenots missed all 10 of their shots in the quarter.
Blauner finished with 30 points; while Burke led the Huguenots with 14, with Holohan adding five.
New Paltz finished the season at 13-7, and with their first Section 9 championship in a decade.