By Rob Potter
MONTICELLO February 21, 2006 The Monticello Panthers and visiting Cornwall Dragons battled for the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) Division III championship basketball championship Thursday night in front of a standing-room only crowd.
In a contest that featured several lead changes and quite a few ties, Monticello was able to grab the biggest lead of the evening with 1:28 remaining. At that moment, Panthers forward Tyrone White made the second of a pair of free throws to give his team a 61-54 lead.
But Cornwalls Brian McNally and Sean DAuria each scored a basket within a 10-second span in the final minute to pull the Dragons to within four points at 63-59.
The Dragons had two more possessions in the final 28 seconds, but could not score on either one.
The partisan Monticello crowd saved its loudest cheers for when the scoreboard clock displayed all zeros and the Panthers had secured their 63-59 victory. Monticello improved its record to 13-7 overall and 5-1 in Division III. Cornwall fell to 14-5 overall and 4-2 in Div. III.
Monticello Coach Dick ONeill and his players walked on the court and celebrated their Division III championship for a few seconds before walking to midcourt for the traditional postgame handshake with Cornwall Coach Tom Howe and the Dragons.
Im very happy, ONeill said. Just to see the looks on our players faces is great. I think every kid, no matter what sport they play, should get to experience a championship at least once just so they can have that feeling. That good feeling is a payback for all of the hard work they put into it.
The veteran coach noted that the win was important for a number of reasons. First was capturing the division championship. Second was that, by clinching the title, the Panthers assured themselves of having one home game when the Section IX Class A tournament begins next week. Third was the probability of avoiding traditional Mid-Hudson Athletic League (MHAL) power Red Hook in the first or second round of the tourney.
And fourth, a win like this is very good for our psyche, ONeill said.
Leading the Panthers to victory was senior guard Brad Cooper. He scored a game-high 23 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished out six assists and made four steals.
Junior center Mike Normann added 13 points and six rebounds for Monticello. White netted 11 points and Mike Washington and Wayne Fletcher had seven points apiece.
ONeill noted that Fletcher and Eric Walker both did a great job on defense against Cornwalls Peter Bradley. Fletcher and Walker guarded Bradley, who is one of the Dragons starting guards, throughout the game and limited him to 10 points.
Cooper, who along with fellow senior captains Walker and Washington presented a flower to his mother during the pregame ceremonies, said he was happy to defeat Cornwall. Over the past three seasons, the Dragons had defeated the Monties six consecutive times in regular season and post season games.
It feels good to finally beat them, Cooper commented. They are a great team and we have a lot of respect for their players and Coach Howe.
Although Cooper scored the 1,000th point of his varsity basketball career earlier this month, he said that the Panthers division title was more important to him.
Ive said before that team accomplishments are better than individual stats, he said. Its great to see Coach [ONeill] and all of these guys celebrating. This is something we will all remember for a long time.
Cooper added that the large crowd and a pregame visit to the Monties locker room by Luis Paredes, who was the co-captain and starting point guard for Monticello during the 2004-2005 season, helped the Panthers record their big victory.
DAuria led the Dragons with 22 points, while Brian McNally added 14 points.
That was a great basketball game, Howe said. The crowd was really into it and it was a great atmosphere. The teams battled for the division championship for all 32 minutes.
I give Monticello credit for making a couple of good plays when they needed to, Howe added. But I am also proud of our guys for the way they played tonight.