By Rob Potter
NEW PALTZ March 9, 2007 For “The Team,” this really was “The Year.”
Since the high school basketball season began back in December, the members of the Tri-Valley varsity boys’ basketball team have warmed up before each game while wearing blue T-shirts with the words “The Team” printed on the front and “The Year” on the back.
The shirts were a gift from Jason Semo, who coached the Bears for the past several seasons but left the T-V school district last summer to become the Athletic Director at Liberty Central School.
By defeating the Millbrook Blazers, 60-57, Friday night at SUNY New Paltz in the Section IX Class C championship game, the Bears proved that this was the year for their team to capture the first boys’ basketball sectional title in T-V school history.
With the victory, T-V earned a berth in the state Class C tournament. The Bears will face the Section I champion, either Hamilton or Leake & Watts, in an opening round game at 6:45 p.m. tomorrow at SUNY New Paltz.
But T-V (21-1) had to hold off a talented, determined Millbrook squad to capture that inaugural Section IX hoops crown.
The Bears held a 31-27 lead at halftime and extended their advantage to six points early in the third quarter. However, Millbrook (14-5) rallied to take a 37-35 lead with 4:08 remaining in the frame when senior forward Derek Badon scored inside the lane.
After Bo Murphy tied the game at 37-37 approximately 35 seconds later, the Blazers again took the lead. With 2:34 showing on the scoreboard clock, Millbrook’s Jack Blayney drove to the basket for two points to give his team a 39-37 advantage.
One minute later, Murphy scored again to pull the Bears even with the Blazers at 39-39.
In the final minute of the quarter, Michael Kaplan and Dustin Van Lieu each scored a basket to give T-V a 43-39 lead heading into the fourth period.
Millbrook cut that lead to 43-42 when Badon completed an old-fashioned 3-point play in the first minute of the final stanza by making a shot while being fouled and then swishing his subsequent free throw.
With 2:17 remaining, Van Lieu knocked down a 15-foot jumper to push the Bears’ lead to six points at 54-48.
In an effort to prolong the game and give themselves more time for a comeback, the Blazers began fouling the Bears on every possession for the remainder of the contest.
But T-V made 6-of-10 foul shots down the stretch to maintain its lead. With 49.2 seconds remaining, senior forward John Merchant swished a pair of foul shots to give the Bears their largest lead of the evening at 59-50.
Badon scored an uncontested layup with four seconds left to pull Millbrook to within three points at 60-57.
However, the Blazers were out of timeouts and the final seconds ticked away as the Bears inbounded the basketball.
When the buzzer sounded, the scores of T-V fans who nearly filled the bleachers on the far side of the gym cheered loudly. On the court, the T-V players excitedly exchanged high-fives and hugs.
Moments later, when he was asked about achieving the goal of winning the Section IX title, Merchant said that it was “a relief.”
“It’s a relief because this team has been through so much this year,” he said.
With 4:56 left in the third quarter, Merchant, who scored a team-high 20 points in the game, picked up his third foul. He went to the bench as Kaplan came in to replace him. Merchant returned to the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Merchant said he wasn’t too worried about leaving the game for a few minutes.
“My teammates know what to do, they are great players,” he commented. “When I’m in the game, I want to play well and help them. But if I’m on the bench, they still work well together.”
Moore concurred with Merchant.
“That is the great thing about having a deep team,” Moore said. “When our best player has to sit out for a while, we have so many players who can step up.”
Moore finished the evening with 17 points, while Van Lieu added 13 points including a pair of 3-point shots.
Moore said that capturing the championship is something he has thought about for many years.
“I’ve been dreaming about winning a title since I was a little kid playing basketball with my friends in the backyard,” the senior said. “This feels awesome. It’s the best feeling you can have.”
T-V Coach Brian Tingley noted that Millbrook kept coming back, but that his team met that challenge.
“When John went out, Michael Kaplan came in and he made some great plays defensively,” Tingley said. “He is as quick as a cat and plays defense very well.”
A leading scorer missing key minutes in the second half due to foul trouble might cause problems for some basketball teams, but not for the Bears.
“They don’t give up on each other,” Tingley said of his players.
Of course, the coach was very happy for his players and proud of them.
“This was the goal at the beginning of the season winning this game,” Tingley said. “This team has made a lot of history at Tri-Valley in one season.”
While Tingley, Assistant Coach John Tenbus, Assistant Coach James Paul and the players deserve a great deal of credit, Tingley praised the legion of T-V fans who cheered loudly throughout the game.
“The crowd support was great,” he said. “They were loud from the beginning of the game and that got the team fired up.”
Badon scored a game-high 28 points, while Blayney netted 18 points for the Blazers.
“We just couldn’t make a shot from the perimeter,” Millbrook Coach Adam Peek said. “We got the ball inside, but we couldn’t score from the outside. And we missed about six or seven layups in the first quarter, which made a difference.”
“They are a good team and we wish them well,” Peek added.