Ramapo almost didn’t make the playoffs this season in Section 1, which is crazy since pretty much everyone qualifies for the postseason.
The Gryphons were 3-12 entering the final weekend of January before going on an unlikely three-game winning streak to assure they’d surpass the playoff qualify standard.
And now a month later, Ramapo is on a four-game winning streak and writing one of the most unthinkable stories in Section 1 basketball history.
The 18th-seeded Gryphons pulled out another stunning upset at the Westchester County Center, rallying in the fourth quarter against No. 3 Mamaroneck before winning 47-44 in overtime of the Section 1 Class AA semifinal.
“I’m just so fortunate to coach this bunch of guys,” Ramapo coach Steve Loscher said. “It’s nothing I drew up. It’s their will. It’s their will in a tough situation.”
Ramapo went 6-14 in the regular season. They were 2-10 on January 22 with only wins against Port Chester and Hawthorne-Cedar Knolls. Those teams combined to 1-37 this season.
But the season turned around that afternoon when Ramapo hosted North Rockland, which entered 8-4, and beat the Red Raiders 57-54.
Ramapo then lost its next two games, to Clarkstown North and Clarkstown South, by a combined 35 points.
While the rest of Section 1 was in hysteria over at that time over the plan to not host games at the County Center, he admitted Wednesday he barely felt emotion about it. It wasn’t going to effect his team. Not this year, at least.
Then came the winning streak. The Gryphons beat Suffern and Ossining before validating their first victory over North Rockland by beating them again.
“I was sitting in the locker room before the North Rockland game. It was their senior day,” Loscher said. “I told the guys ‘This is your night. You want respect? Tonight you have to step up. And we won and that was the first turning point of our season.”
#18 seed Ramapo, yes #18, is headed to the Class AA Finals Brian Aldeus @baldeus5 had 9 points 3 rebounds and went 5/6 from the line @RamapoHS @KDJmedia1 @lohudinsider @lohudsports @anthony_simon13 pic.twitter.com/ttOsM26Qmb
— Kyle Gardner (@kylegardner124) March 1, 2018
The Gryphons followed the North Rockland sweep with an OT loss to Spring Valley and then a hideous 60-32 loss in the final to Clarkstown South.
Then came the outbracket round of the Class AA playoffs when the Ramapo players put a “doo-rag” on Loscher’s head in the pregame.
“I’ve worn a tie every game I’ve ever coached,” said Loscher, who has worn the same black slacks, black sweater and black sport jacket to all four postseason contests out of superstition. “When we got lucky to beat Ketcham, I had to wear it every game. And the doo-rag because the kids love it. It’s lucky.”
And soon the miraculous began to happen:
- Outbracket: Ramapo 60, No. 15 Ketcham 56 (OT): Ramapo was down 14 points in the third quarter and by 10 early in the fourth before charging back. Anthony Simon was fouled shooting a 3 in the final second of regulation with Ramapo down 1. He missed the first 2. And the third bounced high off the rim and fell through. Ramapo won in overtime
- First Round: Ramapo 49, No. 2 Clarkstown South 40: Ramapo was down by 5 with 5:05 left. The Gryphons didn’t allow South to score again, pulling off one of the biggest upsets (by seed) in tournament history. Ramapo also lost to South twice in the regular by 42 combined points.
- Quarterfinals: Ramapo 68, No. 10 Clarkstown North 65. Ramapo led most the fourth quarter, lost it temporarily, but grinded to the finish. The Gryphons advanced when North missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to reach the County Center for the first time since winning a title in 1999. North had beaten Ramapo twice in the regular season by a combined 33 points.
- Semifinals: Ramapo 47, No. 3 Mamaroneck 44 (OT): Ramapo trailed most of the second half and was down 6 early in the fourth. They forced overtime on Anthony Simon’s falling-down lay-up with 5.4 seconds left. Simon scored 12 and Elijah Fenton added 11. Mamaroneck had beaten Ramapo by 17 on Jan. 20.
The doo-rag made its first in-game appearance on Wednesday. After Simon’s game-tying basket in the final seconds of regulation, Loscher reached down and tied the cloth around his head.
“We need the luck.”
Much of the credit belongs to Loscher and assistant coach John Boykin, who joined the staff this season after helping Mount Vernon win a state title last March.
Loscher is Section 1 basketball’s great nomad. He’s playing for a Gold Ball for the third time in four years. In 2015 he led the Peekskill girls to the Class A final. The following year he took the Keio to the Class C championship game. And now Ramapo. This isn’t exactly a natural progression.
“We didn’t know what he was all about or what his agenda was when he first came here,” Ramapo forward Brian Aldeus said last week. “But he’s changed the culture of the program here and made us believe.”
Last time Steve Loscher took a team to a Section 1 Final? Keio girls 3 years ago. Some former players came to support tonight pic.twitter.com/cPylGryrAt
— Kevin Devaney Jr. (@KDJmedia1) March 1, 2018
But Loscher’s story goes far deeper. He began coaching CYO and rec basketball 30 years ago and opened the Loscher Basketball Academy in 1993. The chronology of his coaching career is as follows:
Steve Loscher: A Basketball Nomad
1995: Clarkstown South freshman boys
1996: Clarkstown South JV boys
1997: Dominican College men’s assistant
1998: Pomona Middle School modified boys
1999: Ramapo freshman boys
2000: Paramus (N.J.) varsity girls
2001: Did not coach
2002-03: Ramapo varsity girls
2004-12: Purchase College women’s head coach
2013: Missed season because of prostate cancer
2014: Peekskill varsity girls
2015: Keio varsity girls
2016-18: Ramapo varsity boys
*Loscher went 1-21 at Paramus H.S. He was fired 1 month before his second season after changes in the school’s administration
If Loscher seemed at ease at the County Center on Wednesday, it’s because he’s no stranger to the arena. During his tenure at Purchase College, he worked as a varsity referee, which included 6 Section 1 championship appearances.
When you think about it, Loscher might be Section 1’s most interesting man. Now he’s out pull off the greatest upset in section’s storied history. And he’s never doubted his team for a moment.
“I already took off from school tomorrow,” said Loscher, a teacher, moments after Wednesday’s win. “I put in for a personal day this morning. I knew we were going to win and that I was going to need tomorrow to watch film of Mount Vernon.”
No. 18 Ramapo meets No. 1 Mount Vernon, the reigning state champs. Ramapo last won a section title in 1997. Mount Vernon has won 15 of the 20 titles since and will making its 20th consecutive finals appearance.
Saturday at 11 a.m. at Pace University: Section 1’s version of Destiny vs. the Dynasty.