BY MICHAEL KELLY
GLENS FALLS — Denied a state title ever since the program’s one victory, way back in 1987, the Shenendehowa boys basketball team knocked off Brentwood, 76-63, Sunday to win the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class AA state championship.
Junior guard Kevin Huerter earned MVP honors for the Plainsmen after totaling 25 points, eight rebounds and nine assists at the Glens Falls Civic Center. Senior guard Thomas Huerter earned all-tournament honors after scoring 22 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the title game, while senior forward Brandon Fischer was the sportsmanship honoree after a game in which he had seven points and nine rebounds. Senior forward Matt Alverson added seven points.
The Plainsmen’s championship win was an emotional one for the team and school community, which had its legion of Gang Green Nation supporters out in force. From the team’s perspective, here is what it felt like to go through a heart-pounding championship day:
‘A NORMAL DAY’
In the hours before taking on Brentwood, the members of the Plainsmen did everything they could to make Sunday feel like what it was not — a regular game day. Shortly after waking up, the squad took part in a shootaround before heading to the Civic Center to watch the day’s first championship game, a win for Scotia-Glenville.
Drew Lewis, senior guard: “It was definitely tough sleeping the night before, but I woke up all excited and ready to come play.”
Thomas Huerter, senior guard: “It was a long morning. You try to pretend like it’s a normal day. You just try to not let the emotions of the pregame get going too early because that can throw you off.”
Petar Bebic, junior guard: “We knew it was going to be a battle.”
Thomas Huerter: “A 32-minute battle.”
‘WE HIT OUR FIRST FEW SHOTS’
After a long morning and waiting through Scotia-Glenville’s title victory, the Plainsmen’s game against Brentwood tipped off at 3:24 p.m. Nearly immediately, Shenendehowa took control. Thomas Huerter scored the game’s first five points, and the Plainsmen jumped out to a 16-4 lead that had the pro-Shenendehowa Civic Center crowd at full volume just minutes into the championship contest.
Kevin Huerter, junior guard: “We knew we were going to have to come out fast. A team like Brentwood, if they make a couple quick baskets, they get momentum, a lot of confidence, and they become hard to stop.”
Brandon Fischer, senior forward: “We were excited and knew we had to come out firing because they’re a quick team, a great team. We knew if we got behind that they’d have a lot more energy for the first half.”
Thomas Huerter: “We hit our first few shots, and it built our confidence for the rest of the game.”
Bebic: “The energy it gave us, I can’t put it into words.”
‘TOUGH NOT TO LOOK’
The Plainsmen’s 16-4 lead didn’t last too long, as Brentwood recovered from a poor start that included a pair of technical fouls. Brentwood cut the deficit to 18-10 at the end of the first quarter, and Shenendehowa had five turnovers in the second quarter’s first two minutes. Midway through the second quarter, Shenendehowa trailed 26-23. The Plainsmen’s lead was gone, their supporters quieted, and Shenendehowa head coach Tony Dzikas’ principle of not paying attention to the scoreboard until a game’s final minutes was severely tested.
Bebic: “Coach always preaches that we shouldn’t look at the scoreboard until late in the fourth quarter to decide what to do with clock management and stuff like that.”
Matt Alverson, senior forward: “But it’s tough not to see [the score], especially when you’re looking for the time and you can see the score every time. But Coach does preach not to look at it, and even if we do see the score, we know that if we play hard for 32 minutes every game, we’ll win. We’re going to tire the other team out, and we’re going to win.”
‘NEXT YEAR, HE’LL BE PLAYING ALL 32 MINUTES’
After giving up its lead, Shenendehowa continued to falter late in the first half. Then, sophomore guard Luke Hicks entered the fray and helped change the Plainsmen’s fortunes. With a free throw and a 3-pointer, the seldom-used Hicks pumped in four points near the end of the second quarter to give Shenendehowa a 30-29 lead.
Hicks: “I just wanted to come in and do whatever I could, whether it was knock down an open shot or hit free throws. I don’t want to try to do things I can’t do. If I have to come in just to give Kevin [Huerter] a break, that’s what I’ll come in and do. I try to do that the best I can every time.”
Kevin Huerter: “He was huge. To have someone come off the bench of his caliber and with his skillset is awesome. Not a lot of teams can say they have someone like that. He’s the type of player that, next year, he’ll playing all 32 minutes.”
Hicks: “I always try to keep my head in the game, but it’s hard not to get excited after you make big plays like that.”
‘STAY THE COURSE’
Brentwood made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to take a 32-30 advantage at halftime. Brentwood made six 3-pointers in that first half and had momentum going into the third quarter, but was unable to do anything with it. Shenendehowa stayed within itself and opened the second half with an 8-0 run. From that point on, the Plainsmen never relinquished their lead. Shenendehowa led 48-44 after the third quarter, with the Huerter brothers scoring 11 of the team’s 18 points in the stanza.
Dzikas: “Stay the course [was my halftime message]. We’re down two, and they have six threes. We’re OK. Are they going to have 12 threes at the end of the game? I don’t know, I didn’t think so, and, if they did, we’d be clapping for them as they’re taking the championship plaque. … I’ve said this a thousand times: If you try to stop everything, you’ll stop nothing. We had to stop penetration and offensive rebounding. If we’ve got to [also] stop them from shooting threes, now you’re trying to stop everything. … You’ve got to pick your poison.”
Thomas Huerter: “We knew they were going to hit some shots because our zone isn’t perfect.”
‘DO WHAT WE DO’
The Plainsmen kept at least a four-point lead the entire fourth quarter, as different players stepped up with key baskets or defensive stops. As the clock wound down to the two-minute mark, Shenendehowa had built a 68-58 lead using its depth.
Dzikas: “You don’t win a state championship because you have one or two guys. You [have to] have a team that has a lot of parts.”
Thomas Huerter: “Luke Hicks had a hell of a game as a sophomore, and [sophomore forward] Mike Pizziketti came in and gave us tough minutes. [Senior forward] Erik Kromer, Alverson, Fischer — all the bigs — they were just tough. You can’t push around with those guys for 32 minutes.”
Dzikas: “It’s been our M.O. the whole [postseason] run … that we’re going to do what we do, do what we do, do what we do, and [the other team] is going to get tired.”
Early in the third quarter, Lewis had to leave after taking a hit to his face. The senior returned in the fourth quarter and — in a repeat of a key play he made Saturday in the fourth quarter of Shenendehowa’s semifinal win against Mount Vernon — Lewis dove head-first onto a loose ball to create an extra possession for Shenendehowa. The play was a backbreaker for Brentwood, which lost possession of the ball down 10 points with less than two minutes to go.
Lewis: “I just saw him holding the ball out in front of me, and I dove after it.”
Bebic: “Drew’s freaking tough. He’s the toughest kid on this team.”
‘SEALED THE DEAL’
Not long after the Lewis steal, Brentwood scored to cut Shenendehowa’s lead to 68-61. The Plainsmen began to stall on offense to work the clock in their favor, but with 70 seconds to play and plenty of time on the shot clock, Thomas Huerter lined up a 3-pointer and made it. The shot gave Shenendehowa a 10-point lead heading into the final minute.
Thomas Huerter: “I’ll admit, I didn’t realize the [shot-clock situation]. I wasn’t thinking.”
Kevin Huerter: “I would have taken the same shot. … I’m glad he took it.”
Dzikas: “[It was] a shot that when he started to take it, I was like, ‘No, eat up the clock.’ But then he nailed it, and it was huge. That’s a senior player making a huge shot.”
Thomas Huerter: “At that moment, I saw an open three and I took it. Afterwards, I was like, ‘Oh, thank God.’ ”
Fischer: “When it went in, it was like, ‘OK, shoot it if you’re going to make it.’ It was a great shot and sealed the deal. After that, we knew we had it.”
‘TYPE OF STUFF YOU DREAM ABOUT’
Shenendehowa made its free throws down the stretch to close out a 76-63 victory. The celebration began with about 20 seconds to go for the Plainsmen, and Kevin Huerter got to dribble out the game’s final seconds with one hand pointing to the team’s supporters. Shenendehowa’s first state championship in boys basketball since 1987 had been earned by a squad that did not even enter the state rankings until early January.
Lewis: “This was our goal all year.”
Kevin Huerter: “Nobody thought we’d win this.”
Fischer: “It was amazing. Knowing how hard we’d worked for this and being with these guys and celebrating with them, it was an awesome feeling.”
Kevin Huerter: “This is the type of stuff you dream about: dribbling out the clock and seeing everyone celebrating around you, being able to point to our student section. We’d been looking forward to that moment all year.”
Alverson: “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”