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Park does it, captures Class A Federation championship on Hutchins' buzzer-beater

GLENS FALLS – Noah Hutchins didn't forget to follow his shot. The result of that head's up play produced an unforgettable finish to what will go down as the greatest season in the history of Park School boys basketball.

Hutchins' buzzer-beating layup secured another championship moment for the Pioneers. The basket completed a remarkable comeback by Park, which defeated two-time defending champion Albany Academy, 59-57, in the New York State Federation Tournament of Champions Class A championship game Sunday afternoon at Cool Insuring Arena.

The Federation title is Park's second in four years but first in Class A. The Pioneers won in Class B in 2015.

After the Cadets tied the game 57-57 on Andre Jackson's free throw with 20.1 seconds left, Hutchins brought the ball down the court. The Pioneers had a timeout but opted not to use it at Hutchins' request. Hutchins' shot from just behind the center of the three-point arc with 5 seconds left was off, catching nothing but iron.

With the rebound caroming toward the right side though, Hutchins collected the rebound before two Albany players and one of his own teammates could reach the loose ball. He drove baseline and released the shot with roughly five-tenths of a second left.

Zeros on the clock, but all the time in the world for the Pioneers to start a celebration that seemed slightly unlikely just 1 minute, 48 seconds earlier when they trailed by five.

"The first shot was off, I felt it and went to go grab the rebound and got it," said Hutchins, the junior point guard who was selected tournament MVP after scoring 19 of his team-high 24 points in the second half. "That's all you can do. It's crazy.

"It's a dream come true. This is what everyone dreams of. I couldn't have done it without first and foremost the Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Without him there's no me, and then without my team. I can't do it without my team. You can put this all on me all you want but without them, this isn't possible."

It takes contributions from everyone during a season and big game for a team to experience a championship coronation like Sunday's. On a day in which Albany Academy (17-5) effectively neutralized Park's inside advantage – a staple of this postseason run, it took perhaps the best guard tandem in Western New York in Hutchins and classmate Dan Scott to fuel rallies from a halftime deficit and five-point hole in the final minute and change.

Both guards combined for 31 of the Pioneers' 35 second-half points. Hutchins scored Park's final nine points, capping an effort in which he also had eight rebounds, four assists and four steals.

"That's what a great leader does," first-year coach Rich Jacob said of Hutchins. "We're fortunate to have a no-quit attitude. You always have to play to the final buzzer. Noah did take charge with his great confidence. To get that follow up basket to win it is flat out hustle."

Scott scored 12 of his 20 during the second half – including seven straight points in 42 seconds. The final three completed a three-point play off a steal that gave Park a 50-44 lead with 4:24 left.

Albany Academy star August Mahoney (26 points) scored five straight points and seven during a 12-1 run that followed to wobble Park (25-5). The Pioneers quickly steadied themselves, with Hutchins calmly taking charge.

Park strikes the champion's pose after winning the Class A championship in the New York State Federation Tournament of Champions on Sunday in Glens Falls. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Park rallied from a 30-24 halftime deficit by switching from its 2-3 big zone to a three-quarters press that led to turnovers and transition basket. The game was tied at 42-42 entering the fourth quarter. Park kept the Cadets off balanced further by switching to man.

Hutchins – the team's top defender – finally got his turn guarding Mahoney late in the fourth quarter. That was by design as Brandon Smith and Scott handled the assignment earlier in the game. All Hutchins did was force two turnovers, including a steal that led to his own traditional three-point play with a minute left that pulled the Pioneers within 56-54.

Following another defensive stand, Hutchins scored with 26.4 left – another three-point play in which he drove to the basket, converting a layup while being fouled. This gave Park a one-point lead. Jackson then tied it by hitting the second of his two free-throw attempts, setting the stage for the big finish.

"Coach was going to call timeout," Hutchins said. "Once I crossed half-court I said 'coach I've got this.' We've been practicing for this (situation)."

Practice made for a perfect championship moment.

"I saw him chasing that rebound down," Scott said. "I knew right there, Noah Hutchins, many things can be done there by him so I just watched it go in. …  When he's in attack mode I know there's no way anyone can stop him."

With its second Federation title as overall champion of New York State in its classification, Park joins a small but elite list of Western New York boys basketball programs to have won multiple Fed titles in its history. The others to win it more than once include Nichols and the defunct Turner/Carroll and Buffalo Traditional.

"We understand Park as an institution, Marcus Hutchins as athletic director, Chris Lauricella as the head of school, former coach Mike Battaglia, they set this program in motion and we were fortunate enough to be the ones to pick it up and take it," said Jacob of he and his assistant coaches. "This is the greatest finish I've ever been a part of and I'm very proud to be part of it."

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