Panthers on brink of perfection
HOOSICK, N.Y. -- The Hoosick Falls Central School boys basketball team has already secured the Wasaren League title for this year.
Now the Panthers are out to make sure no one else can claim it with them.
Hoosick Falls (15-1, 13-0) will play its final Wasaren game on Friday, when the team hosts rival Hoosic Valley (15-2, 12-1) at 7 p.m.
The stakes are simple: A win and the Panthers will be the lone league champions while a loss will result in the Panthers sharing the league crown with the Indians.
And while Hoosick Falls coach Mike Lilac said that the team is already playing with "house money," no one in Panther nation wants to share the league crown.
"[The game] is big. We want to go out there and win, and we want to dominate," said Austin Pitt. "We want the win because when you are co-champs, it is not as sweet as when you are just the champs. We want to go out there and get another title."
Hoosick Falls last won a Wasaren League crown in the 2011-2012 season. With a share of the title already locked up, it will be the fourth league crown for the Panthers since 2008-2009. But if the Panthers do top the Indians tomorrow, it would be the first perfect league campaign for Hoosick Falls in a long time -- possibly ever. Coach Lilac noted that the last time a Hoosick Falls team could have gone undefeated in the league was the early 80s, but there was no definitive answer as of press time.
The players for Hoosick Falls, though, aren't concerned with the perfect mark. Rather, they are concerned with just securing another win ahead of the Sectional tournament.
"We haven't really thought about [the record]," Andrew Hoag said. "We are taking it one game at a time. We want to finish strong, we don't want to get another loss."
So far this season, no New York school has managed to beat the Panthers. The team's lone loss of the season came to Mount Anthony Union High School in Vermont. Since that loss, the team has rattled off 10 straight wins, including a 43-42 win against Hoosic Valley at Hoosic Valley.
The key during that stretch was the tenacious defense of Hoosick Falls, and the Panthers are confident that their defensive abilities will make the difference tomorrow.
"If you play great D, you can win any game," Pitt said. "If you hold a team to 30 points, you don't have to go out there and have someone score 20 points. If you play great D, like we do, you don't have to score in enormous numbers."
But the team's defensive abilities will be tested greatly on Friday. Hoosic Valley has a dangerous tandem in Mike Pierre and John Rooney, who have each scored over 300 points this season.
"They are pretty consistent with their play. They usually play straight-up man and look for Pierre and Rooney," Pitt said. "We are going to go straight up with them, play our regular offense and defense. It will be kind of the same [as the first game]."
The team's previous meeting was a highlight game in the league this year. After Hoosick Falls was able to open up a 10-point lead, Hoosic Valley came all the way back and were one offensive rebound, which Hoosick Falls sixth man Noah Chani grabbed away from Valley players, from scoring the go-ahead basket. The team is expecting a dogfight similar to the first game, with the key being their defensive scheming around Pierre and Rooney.
Expect Levi Brewster to take the challenge of guarding Rooney, while Pitt will be tasked with trying to slow down Pierre.
Asked to describe how they plan on defending the pair, Brewster said that the team has to "just play annoying defense. Always be in their face and never let them get to the hoop."
Pitt added that the Panthers have to "take away what they are good at. They can shoot, they can drive. We are going to face-guard Pierre, get up in him and just guard them both straight up."
On offense, Lilac thinks that his team's ability to hit open jump shots will make a big difference.
"That will be a big factor, if we can hit open jump shots," Lilac said. "We have been pretty good about getting the ball to the weak side for open shots. Rooney is a big body, and if he is around the hoop it will be tough to drive. I don't know how many looks at the rim we will get."
Lilac also noted that the team has to bottle the energy that will be in the building. With the stakes so high, Lilac expects a packed gym filled with rabid fans on both sides.
"We talked about [controlling our emotions]. That means playing through a bad call, playing through a hot stretch by them or a cold stretch by us. On the other hand, our saves, try to extend our waves and keep the tempo up when things are going well. The guys are pretty good about the psychological part of sports."
Hoag added that "I always say ‘let the fans do the trash talking,' we just go out there and play. Coach tells you to zone out and not listen, but you can hear them up there."
"All your guys are up there," Pitt said. "You know the guys in the stands. I smirk sometimes, they say some funny stuff up there, but they lift you up. When you are in a lull and not scoring, that crowd can bring you back."
Friday's game will tip at 7 p.m. at the Hoosick Falls Central School gym.
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