Thursday, February 11, 2010

Worst to first: Averill Park boys clinch South Division title

Averill Park's Matt Hotaling leaps for a rebound as Colonie's Mike Branche (35) defends during Thursday's de facto Suburban Council South Division championship game. Colonie's Onome Okpodu is jumping in the background. (All photos by J.S. Carras - The Record).

Matt Hotaling went from goat to hero pretty quickly Thursday night.

Colonie had committed just three fouls in the second half and in a tie game with six seconds to play, Raiders head coach Doug Kilmer decided to apply an intentional foul strategy until Colonie reached the limit, hoping to prevent any shots and run out the clock.

Matt Hotaling caught an inbound pass with four seconds to play, but was lifting his arms to attempt a shot - sending him to the line for two potential game-winning free throws.

He missed them both.

In overtime, Hotaling scored four points, lifting the Warriors to a 56-49 victory and the 2009-10 Suburban Council South Division title.

"We stuck together," said Hotaling, who scored a team-high 12 points and snared nine rebounds. "That’s what we say in the locker room and every time we huddle together: 1-2-3 together! It’s what we did and that’s what we’re going to do."

"See this balding," Averill Park head coach Dave Pugliese joked as Hotaling tried to explain his late game rollercoaster of emotions, "he’s caused 90% of that! But I love the guy to death. He played super tonight."

Averill Park (10-6, 11-7) has earned 14 Suburban Council divisional points, netting two for every victory over a North Division team and one point for each win over a South Division foe. Colonie (9-6, 9-8) plays Guilderland Tuesday night, but has earned just 12 division points and cannot catch the Warriors.

Averill Park senior captain Kevin Rocco picks up his dribble as Colonie's Frankie Lombardi defends during Thursday's Suburban Council game at Averill Park.

The game featured 16 lead changes and 10 ties in an entertaining back-and-forth struggle.

Colonie sophomore Tom Osipitan coolly made two free throws with 18 seconds remaining to tie the game at 43.

Colonie grabbed a pair of one-point leads early in the overtime period, but Averill Park sophomore Nick Hess sunk a three-point shot with 2:41 to play to give the Warriors a 48-46 lead, one they would never relinquish.

Hotaling finished with 12 points and nine rebounds and Hess added nine on a trio of huge threes as the Warriors will add a 2010 to their boys basketball banner.

"The story of our year is that we’ve had things happen at the end of games," said Averill Park head coach Dave Pugliese. "We made mistakes, we threw the ball away and we missed free throws to win it. But for the first time in two years, we hung together, nobody blamed each other and we kept fighting. In the overtime, we were absolutely exhausted and they just kept clawing. I’m just so proud that it’s beyond words."

Colonie's Jordan Meeks (4) and Averill Park's Matt Joe fight for control of the ball during Thursday's Suburban Council game at Averill Park.

It's been a tremendous season for the Averill Park boys, something that has seemed to be overshadowed by the success of the girls' team this year. The Averill Park boys finished 2-14 in the South Division a season ago and their worst-to-first turnaround has made Pugliese a very happy coach.

"It’s hard for anybody outside our locker room to understand what they endured," he said. "We started with 13 players and we’re down to 10. Justin Collen, a four-year varsity player, hasn’t been able to play all year with his knee. Zach Rosch, who would have been a starter or our sixth man, got hurt on the last possession of football. And we had somebody leave the team. Phew. We’ve hung in there.

"We obviously were leaking oil down the stretch and now, we’re a different team," Pugliese continued. "We said we would be OK if we just hung in there and they certainly did. It was very gratifying and I’m very proud of the kids."

Check out the full story on the game in Friday's edition of The Record.

Most of the Capital Region media apparently assembled at the Averill Park and Colonie girls game at Colonie and they saw a real treat.

Colonie outlasted the Warriors, earning a 63-62 victory and handing the Averill Park girls, the No. 1 ranked Class A team in the state, their first defeat of the season.

It's certainly a big bounce-back win for the Garnet Raiders, who lost by 40 points to Averill Park the first time they played. The game tells us two things heading into the playoffs: 1) Look out for Colonie, because they're the real deal and 2) Averill Park is not unbeatable.

Holy Names will likely round out the regular season with a perfect record, but I can't see the Section II committee awarding the No. 1 Class A seed to any team but Averill Park on the strength of all their victories over Class AA teams.

More hoops to come tomorrow, as the Watervliet boys host Voorheesville in a battle for second place in the Colonial Council - unless Lansingburgh loses again, then it's potentially a share of first place - and La Salle travels to Troy High in the continuation of Collar City rivalry week.
Also, it's the opening day of the Section II wrestling tournament at the Glens Falls Civic Center and we'll bring you the results from day one of the two-day event.

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