The Park School boys basketball team held onto a tenuous 2-point lead as Keonjay Carter stepped to the free-throw line.
Carter sank two free throws to open that lead to four, and seconds later, Desmond Davis hit two more free throws to open Park’s lead to six.
Yet Park’s lead never really seemed secure until the final buzzer sounded on a 55-52 win against Holy Trinity of Long Island, 0.9 seconds after Titans guard A.J. Knight hit a 3-pointer to bring the Titans back within three.
When the buzzer sounded in a New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association Class A semifinal Saturday at Canisius College, it was a relief for the Pioneers. But Park's late-game composure helped put the Pioneers back in the Class A championship game.
Park, the defending Class A champion, will face Monsignor Farrell for the NYSCHSAA title at 1 p.m. Saturday at Fordham University in New York.
“This is huge, to go back-to-back years and have a chance to win the state championship a second time,” said Noah Hutchins, who led the Pioneers with 31 points. “It’s impressive.”
Hutchins, a senior, was also impressed by his team’s maturity late in the game.
“We have five sophomores altogether on the team, and they all can compete, at the highest level,” Hutchins said. “I told them that, from the start, that we were going to need every one of those guys. They know their role, and they played it well tonight.”
The fourth-quarter composure by the Pioneers also made a statement to Park coach Rich Jacob.
Holy Trinity took a 38-36 lead into the fourth, but each time Park took a lead in the fourth, the Titans tied the game three times, until the Pioneers took a 51-49 lead on Hutchins’ three-point play with less than two minutes left in regulation.
“Our defensive work at the end of the fourth quarter made the difference,” Jacob said. “Better composure on the offensive end allowed us to get a couple of the shots we were looking to get. We rushed some things on the offensive end all day long, and that put us in a tough position. They’re a good team, they’re a strong scoring team and everybody’s good, at this stage of the game.”
Holy Trinity guard Michael Sixsmith (22 points) hit a layup just before the end of the first quarter that cut Park’s lead to 17-13, but the Pioneers squandered a nine-point lead in the final 4 1/2 minutes of the first half.
Holy Trinity took its first lead with a minute left at 27-25, on A.J. Knight’s layup, which forced Park to immediately call a timeout.
In a stretch of more than four minutes, the Pioneers went without a successful shot from the floor and Jai’Den Dunn scored Park’s only point on a free throw with 2:22 left in the first half. Also affecting the Pioneers: the absence of center Ebuka Nnagbo, who went to the bench with his second foul late in the first half.
“Ebuka with two fouls in the first half, it’s always a question of whether it’s worth a risk,” Jacob said. “Every player has their tendencies and we just thought it was the best for the team to get him out of the game. But really, it was our loss of composure on the offensive end in the last minute of the first half that caused more damage, than they did. That’s on us. That’s on the coach. That’s on me.”
Dunn tied the game 18 seconds into the second half and kicked off a 7-0 run for the Pioneers, while Holy Trinity struggled to sink shots. The Titans were 0 for 4 from the floor before Knight hit the Titans’ first shot of the second half, a 3-pointer two minutes in, to cut Park’s lead to 32-30, but Carter (11 points) answered seconds later to extend Park’s lead back to four.