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Park asserts itself in advancing to Federation Class A basketball final

GLENS FALLS – Park used its size to its advantage. It also took charge for good when it seemed like it was losing control. Simply put, the Pioneers refused to be denied.

They are now one win away from being the Empire State's overall Class A boys basketball champion.

Daniel Scott scored 11 of his game-high 24 points during the third quarter, while Julian Eziukwu added 16 points and nine rebounds to carry Park past New York State Public Schools Athletic Association champion Amityville, 86-61, in a Federation Class A semifinal Saturday afternoon at Cool Insuring Arena.

With Park clinging to a 43-38 lead with 5 minutes, 40 seconds left in the third, the combination of the Pioneers' big men and Scott rose to the occasion to carry the New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association champion into its second Federation championship game in four years.

Park (24-5) plays the final game of the scholastic season in the state when it faces two-time defending champion Albany Academy (17-4) for the crown at 4 p.m. Sunday.

"This is just exciting," first-year Pioneers coach Rich Jacob said. "I'm happy for the school. I'm happy for the players. Hard work pays off. Every team here is good. To have an opportunity to play for it all is what ever team dreams of."

Scott's third-quarter burst enabled the Pioneers to inch closer to that dream. Park ended the quarter on a 16-0 run as the potential opening for a Warriors' comeback closed emphatically. Scott's three with 3:29 left in the frame made it 46-38. After a three-point play by sophomore John Orogun (eight points, 11 rebounds), Scott swished back-to-back treys before capping his mini burst with a dribble drive off glass. Scott, a junior, surpassed 1,700 career points.

"It's exciting but that's nothing to think about until the season is over," Scott said of the milestone. "I just want to win."

While Scott had his shooting stroke going, Park used its big 2-3 defense to further frustrate Amityville. The Warriors (27-2) seemed out of sync offensively going against a team that had at least two of its three 6-foot-8 or taller players on the court until the outcome was all-but decided with under two minutes left. Amityville shot 29 percent from the floor for the game and lost the battle of the boards 51-32 -- with the Pioneers gobbling up 21 offensive rebounds.

Park led 23-11 after the first quarter as it wasted little time attacking the basket – knowing that a miss would likely be gobbled up by the 6-10 Orogun, the 6-8 Quentin Nnagbo or the 6-9 Eziukwu. The Pioneers grabbed 34 of their 51 rebounds for the game during the opening half (34-12 edge) with Eziukwu grabbing eight boards and Orogun nine. Eziukwu had 11 first-half points – a good chunk coming off of his six offensive rebounds.

"Rebounding and just being aggressive in the paint," said Scott, who had seven rebounds. "Without them I don't know how we'd get those (boards). They set the tone for the whole team to be aggressive. As they keep going, we keep going."

The post players contributions weren't the only huge ones.

With Noah Hutchins picking up his second foul in the second quarter, Park's junior point guard sat the rest of the period.

The Pioneers didn't lose a beat. They led by 11 when he was forced to the bench. They led by nine at halftime, 39-30, as Scott, Jaylen Stewart and Keonjay Carter did a fine job protecting the ball against an Amityville team that likes to pressure and push the tempo.

With the game well in hand, Jacob got the rest of the reserves some playing time. They too outscored their Amityville counterparts (6-2) during the final 95 seconds.

Hutchins finished with 12 points and 11 assists, Brandon Smith added 14 points and Nnagbo grabbed 14 rebounds -- including 10 on defense.

Albany Academy advanced to the final by taking out PSAL champion Brooklyn Law & Technology, 83-61. August Mahoney led the winners with 31 points.

"We're going to have to plan accordingly," Jacob said. "We know a championship isn't going to happen unless a team takes it and that's what we're after."

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