By Jim Hague
Special to The News
NEW YORK –Saturday’s game against Monsignor Farrell was for the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association Class A championship, but for Park School senior guard Noah Hutchins, the contest meant a heck of a lot more.
Hutchins was playing in front of his grandmother, uncle and cousins who all live in Monticello, about an hour away from Fordham University’s Rose Hill Gym, where Saturday’s title game was played.
“It was a blessing for me to be able to play a game with all of them there,” Hutchins said. “I had to make it special with them here.”
Hutchins made sure that it was a day to remember, scoring a game-high 19 points, leading the Pioneers to a hard-fought 48-47 victory, enabling the Pioneers to successfully defend the state title.
The Pioneers also earned the right to defend their state Federation title, facing Albany Academy in the semifinals in two weeks in Glens Falls. Park defeated Albany Academy, 59-57, last year. The two teams faced each other earlier this season with Albany Academy earning a 67-44 win, but Hutchins did not play in that game.
“I think there was a different kind of pressure, because the expectations on us were high,” Hutchins said. “But this was a totally different team and a different year. I’m proud of this team. We had a lot of young guys learn a lot this year.”
Park School coach Rich Jacob sang the praises of his senior leader.
“I’ll say it, because I coach him, but Noah is one of the best players in the country,” Jacob said. “He’s a great leader who has taken charge of the young players on this team. He plays at such a high level. It’s a credit to him that he’s able to do all that he does.”
The contest was close throughout and was tied at 32-32 going into the final quarter. Before the final period began, Hutchins had a message to deliver to his teammates.
“I told them that we didn’t have to panic,” Hutchins said. “I told them to not think too much about the score and just play the way we always do.”
Hutchins, who had 31 in the Pioneers’ victory against Holy Trinity in the Class A semifinals, went coast-to-coast with a driving layup with 5:10 remaining that gave the Pioneers a 41-39 lead that they did not relinquish, although there were some tense moments in the closing seconds.
Soon after Hutchins made the driving shot, sophomore guard Desmond Davis drained a clutch 3-pointer from the left corner that pushed the lead to 44-39 with 3:40 left.
“That was definitely super clutch,” Hutchins said of Davis, who scored eight of his 10 points in the final period. “He just took over there.”
“Here he is, just a sophomore and not even one of our top 3-point shooters,” Jacob said. “But he had the courage to take those shots. I think it says a lot about how far he’s come.”
Senior forward Ebuka Nnagbo was also a major factor, scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
The lead went all the way to eight (45-37) with 1:46 left and momentum seemed to have swung in favor of the Pioneers. But the Lions (22-5) didn’t go away easily and sliced the lead down to a single point with seven seconds left.
In the final possession, Chris Edwards drove into the paint and appeared to get off a decent attempt, but Hutchins and Nnagbo converged on Edwards as he pulled up and the final shot went hard off the backboard.
Fittingly, Hutchins secured the rebound and heaved the ball to the ceiling in jubilation as the buzzer sounded.
“It’s a tremendous achievement to win it again,” Jacob said. “I feel very fortunate to coach this team. The kids all worked hard to get here. The coaching staff did a great job with these kids. To win the state championship again is amazing.
"I think defense was the difference today. We kept changing defenses on them, three different times in the fourth quarter. It was a total team effort, and I’m happy to be standing here with this today,” he said as he clutched the state championship plaque the way a father cradles his newborn child.
“This is very impressive,” Jacob said. “I’m very proud of them.”
The Lions were paced by Anthony Clemenza and Edwards, who each scored 11 points in a valiant effort.