Panthers survive upset bid, win sixth straight Wasaren crown
MECHANICVILLE, N.Y. — Once a team gets into the playoffs, the mantra is simple — survive and advance.
Without their second-leading scorer Tristan Williams, out with a knee injury, the Hoosick Falls boys basketball team edged a game Waterford squad, 55-52, to win the Wasaren League championship on Monday night at Mechanicville High School.
"We told everybody that we needed them to step up a little bit to make up for all that Tristan did," said Hoosick Falls coach Mike Lilac. "They stepped up big. We've seen everyone's best shot so much, we've been down a lot this year, for these guys to come back and find a way to win, this is as good as a win as we've had in a while."
The 54th straight Wasaren League victory for the Panthers also brought the school's sixth straight league title, having won it every year since 2014.
One major contributor on Monday night was Max Kipp, who led the way for the Panthers with 15, his ninth game of the year in double digit scoring for the junior.
Kipp is the third-leading scorer for the Panthers this season, so with Williams out, he'll be a focus on offense.
"We needed him to step up and be more offensive-minded," Lilac said. "He's deferred to [Jon] Kempf and Tristan this year, we need him to change his mentality. He's also guarding the other team's best player."
Hoosick trailed for most of the night, coming into the fourth quarter down by just three at 38-35. With about four minutes left, Waterford led by five, 45-40, and it looked like the short-handed Panthers' long league win streak might come to an end.
But Kipp scored in transition on the next possession after a steal, then with 2:52 to go, Isiah Burnett scored two of his nine points to cut the lead to 45-44.
Waterford's Bobby Valigorsky hit a basket to get the lead back to three, but then Kipp calmly drained a three from the top of the key to tie the game at 47-47.
"We've been down at half or in a close game, and they were so composed," Lilac said. "That helped us focus on what we needed to do X's and O's wise. We needed to make some adjustments."
After two Kempf free throws, Burnett came up with a steal at the other end and got the ball to Kempf, who was fouled.
"I just want to have the ball in my hands at the end of the game," Kempf said. "I'm calm at the line and just try to knock down the shots."
Kempf made another pair of free throws before Michael Talavera cut the lead to 51-49 with 30 seconds to go.
Kempf was held below his average, only scoring 14 points, but 10 of those came at the line, where Kempf was perfect on the night.
As a team, Hoosick Falls made 14-of-17 from the line.
"We've shot great free throws all year," Lilac said. "It's good to shoot well when you get to the line a lot. A lot of little things were big today. Every possession counted."
On the next possession, Kipp was fouled, setting up a 1-and-1 opportunity. He hit the first, then dropped in the second to make the lead 53-49. Two more Kempf free throws made it a two-possession game and Talavera's three at the buzzer was for naught.
Talavera led the way on the scoresheet for the Fordians with 20 points, including a trio of three-pointers. Valigorsky was second with 11, followed by Mike Castracani with nine. After Kipp and Kempf, Isiah Burnett started and had nine points.
Now, the teams await their seeding for the playoffs, that is scheduled to be released on Wednesday.
"We're coming in preparing as much as we can for sectionals," Kempf said.
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