For the first time in three days, the Ardsley players and coaches found time to relax. No team had ever been so excited for three hours on a bus.
“We got on the bus this afternoon and sat back,” Ardsley coach Sean Cappiello said. “You could hear a pin drop.”
Nobody in the Ardsley basketball program, certainly not Julian McGarvey, were quite prepared for every second following Saturday’s “McGarvey Miracle” at Pace University. But the Panthers scraped together the energy on Tuesday night and, after a sluggish start, found a way to make this wild journey last a few more days.
Ardsley traveled to the Binghamton region and took down Section 4 champion Maine-Endwell 59-41 in a NYSPHSAA Class A regional semifinal. It was the first ever state tournament win for the Panthers, who advanced to Friday’s regional title game against New Paltz High School of Section 9 at SUNY New Paltz.
“All we’ve been talking about is moving forward from Saturday and not looking back,” Cappiello said. “We just focused on today’s game. The long bus ride helped. We’ve been overwhelmed. Julian was definitely exhausted. But his teammates really helped him through it tonight.”
McGarvey has been on a media whirlwind since his 70-foot shot at the buzzer gave Ardsley’s a jaw-dropping 52-51 win over Tappan Zee in the Section 1 final. Within minutes of hitting the shot, McGarvey was a viral sensation.
But while McGarvey (7 points) was held in check offensively on Tuesday, Sean Casey and Zeke Blauner assumed the spotlight. Casey scored 24 points, including five 3-pointers, and six rebounds. Blauner added 18 points in the win.
Danny Hewitt followed up a terrific performance in the Section 1 tournament by battling in the paint on Tuesday against a big, physical Maine-Endwell squad.
“This team tonight had a couple of Division I offensive linemen from their football team out there,” Cappiello said. “They have a few big strong 6-4, 6-5 kids out there and they gave us a problem early.”
The emergence of Hewitt and Frank Belarge in the second half of the season has helped catapult Ardsley into a team capable of a long postseason run.
Hewitt, who had 16 points and seven rebounds in the Section 1 final, struggled early in the year after a difficult transition from the football season. After a strong junior season, Hewitt lost his start spot in the middle of this season, only to reclaim his minutes and show his value late.
“Danny was sore all over after the football season. A lot of our guys were and that’s why we started the way we did,” said Cappiello, who is an assistant football coach at Ardsley. “Danny couldn’t hit the side of a barn in the first month. After I took him out of the lineup, he actually said ‘I’m surprised you didn’t do it sooner.’
“But he’s a true competitor and he kept on working. He was a lifesaver at the County Center and he was a lifesaver at Pace. He does things nobody on this team can do.”
Belarge has always seemed to settle into his role as the point guard for the Panthers. Again, the junior came to the realization in the middle of the season he could help this team more and asked Cappiello how.
“He came to me and asked ‘What can I do better?'” Cappiello said. “You don’t get that a lot. I told him he needs to become a classic point guard; handle the ball, get us into our offense and distribute. He accepted that role and it’s made us a much better team.”
Ardsley struggled shooting from the floor against Maine-Endwell’s 1-3-1 zone defense before Casey and Blauner got hot. The Panthers hit 8 3-pointers in the game while Maine-Endwell shot 2 of 15 from behind the arc.
McGarvey did contribute eight rebounds and four assists. Belarge added six boards.
Ardsley is now one win away from reaching the Class A state final four in Binghamton on March 16-18.
While they won the Gold Ball on a miracle, the Panthers’ ride through the state playoffs is becoming very real.
“We talked about the season being a marathon. We ran our marathon and then it was like we had another two more miles,” Cappiello said. “We are taking this one game and one quarter a time. We want to see how far we can make it.
“These guys were mentally exhausted but they came through tonight. They want to keep going here. They can celebrate the Gold Ball for the rest of their lives.”