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Strong second half propels Park to state Catholic boys basketball title

Coach Rich Jacob and associates Matt Jacob and Bob Bateson had a vision for how they wanted to mold the Park boys basketball program when they took over back in August.

If they could have hit the fast forward button seven months ago, they would’ve liked what they saw during the second half of Sunday’s New York State Catholic Class A championship at Villa Maria.

Coming out of the break with a 32-30 lead, Park (23-6) blitzed New York City champion Nazareth (22-6) with a 12-2 run in the first 3:10 and never looked back in a 65-50 win to capture the school’s second state Catholic title in four years.

The unmatched size of the Pioneers’ bigs started finishing around the rim, while the standout duo of junior guards Noah Hutchins and Dan Scott pushed the pace quicker than that of the first half.

“I felt like we adjusted defensively and our shot selection got a little better,” Rich Jacob said. “We attacked the basket with a little more control, but defense is what did it.”

Jacob didn’t need any further proof than when Nazareth air balled three outside shots to start the third quarter.

“With hands and active feet we can change shots,” Jacob said. “I remember those three (shots) very well. We were happy to see that for sure.”

He was also happy to see the Pioneers spread the wealth offensively.

Hutchins and Scott both finished with 14 points. Six-foot-8 forward Julian Eziukwu scored 10 of his game-high 17 over the last 16 minutes, and 6-9 classmate John Orogun added 12.

“To have those kinds of weapons to be able to go to a big 2-3 zone like we do or with our three-guard rotation, it really helps us get us up and down with our up-tempo game,” Jacob said. “Our guard play is just superior. That’s been the key. They’re the catalysts.”

The guard rotation of Hutchins, Scott and senior Brandon Smith will be counted on during Park’s next stop, at the New York State Federation Tournament of Champions the weekend of March 23-25 at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.

Park came away with the 2015 NYS Federation Class B championship the last time the team made it to that stage. Its semifinal matchup this time around will come against the New York State public schools representative, which will be determined in Binghamton next weekend.

“You’re only as good as your last performance, and certainly that second half is something to build on,” Jacob said. “We feel like we’ve been there before, and we have two weeks to get better, which is a great opportunity. We’re very excited to prepare.”

As one of the leaders on the team, Hutchins is never satisfied. Win or loss, it doesn’t matter. He always has to take a look at the film and fix what needs fixing before setting his sights on what’s ahead.

“The main thing for us is jumping out of the gate like how we did the second half starting off really strong,” Hutchins said. “I think we gotta start like that from the start. If we do that and continue to keep it going the whole entire game, I don’t think anyone can stop us.”

Nazareth held a 13-12 advantage after eight minutes, but Park took the lead for good following a Smith bucket that made it 19-18 2:40 into the second quarter. The Pioneers extended their lead to 32-26 before the Kingsmen scored the last two field goals of the first half.

The Pioneers won the third quarter, 21-7, and pushed their lead to as many as 18, 55-37, on a Scott dunk less than a minute into the fourth quarter.

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