Panthers top Witches to retain Wasaren title

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HOOSICK, N.Y. >> Greenwich was never going to make it easy for Hoosick Falls during Wednesday night's boys basketball match-up.

But with the Panthers staring at another Wasaren League championship, there was no way they would let the Witches snatch a win at Hoosick.

Behind a 25-point performance from Andrew Hoag, Hoosick Falls held on for dear life in a 52-50 win, setting the Panthers (17-0, 13-0) up to not only repeat as champions, but to potentially pull off historic back-to-back undefeated league seasons.

"[To repeat] is huge," Hoag said. "Last year we were kind of in shock, this year we took everyone's best shot. There hasn't been an easy game in the league. I think this year's Wasaren League title feels better than last year's."

And with how much the Panthers had to work for it on Wednesday, it must have felt all the more rewarding.

The Panthers came out red-hot and opened up a 15-6 lead after one when Hoag snuck into the lane for a putback, and a three by Will Bradley and a free throw from Hoag put Falls up 19-8 with 6:15 to go in the third.

But then the Witches (15-3, 11-2) finally came to life, and over the rest of the quarter the team outscored Hoosick 18-7 to cut the lead to just 26-24 at halftime. During that span, Greenwich hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers, with two coming from John Stewart (9 points), to make things uncomfortable for Hoosick Falls.

"They were like Cohoes — they hit three or four threes in a row and then all of a sudden we are coming down and scoring twos and they are scoring threes, that cuts into it big time," Hoag said. "But we are battle-tested, we hung through like we always do and we came out on top."

Greenwich kept the momentum going in the second half, as Stewart's third triple of the evening put the Witches ahead 31-30 — the team's only lead of the night.

Undeterred from the run, the Panthers put their faith in Hoag to abuse his match-ups, and the senior scored 12 of his game-high tally in the third to get Hoosick back in front, including two and-one conversions on pretty finishes in the lane. After three, Hoosick led 46-37.

"We talked about that in practice yesterday and before the game. Somewhere, they were going to have more problems with mismatches than we were going to have," Hoosick Falls coach Mike Lilac said. "We definitely thought [Sean] Estramonte was going to have his hands full [with Hoag]. It was no fault of his own, he is a scrappy player, but Andrew was just strong. Off the dribble, in the post, everywhere. Talk about a kid playing with passion — he played like an animal tonight."

The game, though, was far from over. To open the third, Greenwich's 6-foot-7-inch center Justin Carruthers (18 points) hit a free throw and two 3-pointers to make it 48-44, and then the Witches exchanged threes-for-twos on consecutive plays with just under two to go to make it 52-50 with under a minute to go.

"That's the way they are, they have a bunch of good shooters, they are a good team, they get hot and it's contagious," Lilac said. "Then, Carruthers steps out and hits a couple and you are just like 'oh man'. You just have to play through it and keep trying to get good shots. On offense, we weren't getting quite as many good looks as we would have liked. They kept hitting threes with hands in their face, so you just have to play through it."

Hoosick Falls, taking the ball after Greenwich called a timeout on the final three by Sean Estramonte (5 points), proceeded to turn the ball over when an inbounds pass slipped through Bradley's hands, but then the Panthers ramped up their defense and forced Carruthers into an over-and-back violation to give Hoosick the ball with 20.1 seconds to go.

Falls got the ball in to Bradley, but then Bradley missed the front-end of a one-and-one to give Greenwich the ball back with time running out.

Greenwich got two looks on the last possession, a three by Stewart and a fadeaway by Carruthers off the rebound, but both shots were well-contested by the Hoosick Falls defense.

"We just had to get the ball in. Noah threw it to Will, Will got a bad break," Hoag said of the initial turnover. "Our defense is key, and we are made for those big stops at the end. Stewart had a tough shot that he almost rainbowed to go in, and Carruthers threw up a prayer at the end. We played our odds and they came through."

For Greenwich coach Duke Beck, the slow start left him wondering 'what if?' after the game.

"When you play in big games like this, and hopefully we will in another one, you can't be emotional about it," Beck said. "You have to be focused — not psyched up. Psyched up is for a team that is trying to convince themselves they are better than the other team. I thought we were too emotional and got ourselves down 19-6. Hoosick Falls plays too good of defense not run good offensive sets, which we didn't do."

Connor McCart finished with 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks for Hoosick Falls, while Hoag was one rebound off a double-double. Austin Pitt had eight points for the Panthers. For Greenwich, Carruthers finished with a double-double, adding 12 boards to his point tally. Kelvin Williamson had 12 points and four assists for Greenwich.

Hoosick Falls will try to finish the perfect league campaign on Friday when the Panthers host Granville for Senior Night. For Lilac, who grew up as a manager on his father's Stillwater teams back in the day, the feat in front of his team is something he really wants.

"These guys, it's like you don't want them to graduate and move on," Lilac said. "It's a good group, ever since they were young they've played ball together. I've been around the league a long time ... I know the whole history of this league, no one has done back-to-back undefeated seasons, so that's a big goal we can have by ourselves in the Wasaren League. I don't like to talk much about wins, I just like to go out and play, but it's right there, the kids are eager to get back on the court Friday."


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