The Sweet Home boys basketball team fell seven points short of giving one of its sweetest seasons a Hollywood ending.
A Panthers team forged by the season-long absence of leading scorer Terrell Rankin got an emotional lift as the junior returned to the court in the state final. And Sweet Home held the lead on the defending champions with less than two minutes to play in Sunday afternoon's Class A state championship.
But Peekskill, a team so accustomed to winning that it had back-to-back championship T-shirts printed up before the game, scored the last eight points to beat Sweet Home, 46-39, before an estimated 1,500 at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
"I'm proud of these kids," said Sweet Home coach Paul Schintzius. "I didn't know if we would get to this point, and we've enjoyed the ride every step. But I think if you go over and ask [Peekskill], I think they'll feel that we battled, scratched, clawed, and had them on the ropes."
Rankin, out since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the first half of the Panthers' season opener and cleared to play just two days ago, entered the game to a loud ovation by the blue-and-gold-clad Panthers fans with 1:59 left in the first quarter.
"The doctor told me a month ago, 'Paul, if it was the state championship, I might clear him to play,' " Schintzius said. "So we called 48 hours ago and said, 'It's the state championship.' He made a play that was emotional. I'm proud of him and all these guys."
Rankin hit just one of five shots and showed signs of rustiness, but his one basket made it seem like a victory was in the script for Sweet Home (21-6). Eric Schnirel's three-pointer had given Sweet Home a 34-33 lead early in the fourth quarter, and Rankin made it 36-33 by banking in a smooth leaner in the lane to prompt a Peekskill timeout with 4:54 left.
A Peekskill burst was answered by Hudson's three-pointer with 2:46 left that gave Sweet Home a 39-38 lead. But that would be the last score for the Panthers, who turned the ball over on their final three possessions against Peekskill's oppressive full-court pressure. Meanwhile, Andre Jacobs (10 points) hit a scooping follow-shot to regain the lead for the Red Devils with 1:42 left, Tyrone Murphy (10 points) hit a three at the 1:00 mark and Devon Beufort sealed the game with a steal and layup with 15 seconds left.
Sweet Home seniors Quentin Hudson (12 points, seven rebounds) and Daniel Joseph (eight points, 14 rebounds) were named to the all-tournament team along with Murphy. Mookie Jones, a 6-foot-6 sophomore standout, earned MVP honors with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Sweet Home's tough defense, which has driven it throughout the playoffs, helped the Panthers to a 17-9 lead in the second quarter before Peekskill's pressure led to a 14-0 run that gave the eventual winners a 23-17 lead at halftime.
Peekskill maintained a five-point lead for much of the third quarter until Sweet Home used some pressure of its own -- and hustle by Schnirel (4 for 4 at the line in the final 1:02 of the third) -- to cut the lead to 33-31 heading to the fourth.
Peekskill (26-1) returns here for the Federation tournament, where it will play St. Joe's (27-1), the Catholic state champion, in the semifinals at 6:45 p.m. Friday.