BINGHAMTON - To put it kindly, Jim Santoro would call the play of Lourdes senior Kevin Townes in the first month of the season as “easy breezy.” Translation: Townes wasn’t playing as hard on either of the floor that his coach expected.
“I would tell him right now,” Santoro said, “On your tombstone, it’s going to read: defensive player of the year.”
The ascension of Townes over the past month has directly coincided with Lourdes’ unexpected run to a Gold Ball and, on Saturday, a berth in the state championship game. Townes scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half and came up with another brilliant steal in the final minute to propel the Warriors to a heart-pounding 70-67 victory over Long Island champion Southampton in the Class A state semifinals.
Walking off the floor of the Floyd Maines Arena in Binghamton on Saturday, minutes after Southampton’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer missed, Townes took a moment to soak in yet another unforgettable postseason performance.
“Coach has really pushed me to go harder,” Townes said. “Every day since Day 1 he’s been pushing me and I’ve gotten better and better.”
Townes yet again came up with the defining play in a nail-biting victory. Just like he did in the final seconds against Tappan Zee in the Section 1 title game, Townes got up on the player he was defending and simply deflected the ball away. The 6-foot-2 senior raced for the ball and went in alone for a fast-break layup to put Lourdes up 5 with under two minutes to play.
The Warriors led by one with 27 seconds when Southampton came up with a steal but missed a point-blank layup. Townes saved the rebound. The Mariners didn’t get the ball again until under 10 seconds to play.
“Kevin has been incredible in the postseason,” Santoro said. “Before the game we were talking about how far everyone on this team has come. … (Townes) has just done a complete turnaround. I always knew he could play defense. I never knew he’d be able to do it for 32 minutes like he’s been doing”
Lourdes (20-6) will play in its first state title game on Sunday in Binghamton, facing Rochester-area power Irondequoit for the Class A crown at noon. Irondequoit knocked off Jamesville-Dewitt on Saturday morning, 68-56, to improve to 24-1.
“It’s a blessing coming here and we’ve earned this right,” Lourdes senior James Anozie said. “It’s a great feeling to still be here.”
If the Warriors get another gritty performance like Saturday, they could be hoisting the program’s first ever state championship. Anozie, the 6-foot-6 center, was efficient inside, scoring 25 points on 10 of 14 shooting. He also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Aidan Hilderbrand, the freshman phenom, added 21 points and five rebounds while also knocking down a pair of free throws with 9.8 seconds left to put the Warriors up 3.
Lourdes was 15 of 17 at the free throw line and shot 49-percent from the floor. The Warriors scored 40 of their points in the paint while overcoming a four-quarter, 3-point barrage from Southampton.
The Mariners were 13 of 34 from 3-point range, using the deep ball to go on a 15-0 run in the third quarter and take a seven-point lead.
“I kept saying to my bench ‘Man, these guys can shoot,’” Santoro said. “There were some shots that they made and we were right in their face. They were nailing them. I didn’t know what else we could do.”
Southampton trailed by 10 early in the second quarter but clawed to within two before the half. Aaron Krzyzewksi scored a team-high 23 points and Elijah Wingfield added 16 points with four 3-pointers.
While Lourdes got 67 of its 70 points from three players, Brady Hilderbrand had five rebounds, five assists and Joe Heavey added four assists. The Warriors’ starting five accounted for 1:48 of the game played.
“This one took everything we had,” Anozie said. “It took heart, effort, sweat, blood, everything. We earned this right to be in the state finals and now we have one more game to win.”
Irondequoit is a dynamic team with a talented point guard in Zach Stenglein and a dominant sophomore forward in Gerald Drumgoole. Lourdes hopes the momentum of the last month, and the resolve this team has proven, will carry it to a state title.
“We’ll enjoy this for about an hour and let them celebrate,” Santoro said. “But we have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it. … (Irondequoit) is in the same position we are in. There’s not a lot of time to prepare. We’re going to roll the ball out and the best team is going to win.”
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