GLENS FALLS – Many ingredients go into a championship formula, but the most essential component for any team is its ability to string together defensive stops.
Park School knows that.
Strong defensive play fueled the Pioneers’ run to the New York State Federation Class A boys basketball championship last year.
While Park’s defense played a role in its return to the Fed final four, the Pioneers’ inability to slow down Albany Academy’s two best players, August Mahoney and Andre Jackson, is the reason there will be a new Federation champion.
Park’s reign ended with a 71-56 loss to the Cadets in a semifinal Saturday at Cool Insuring Arena.
Albany Academy (18-3) faces Frederick Douglass Academy of the PSAL for the championship at 1 p.m. Sunday. FDA advanced with a win against state public schools champion Poughkeepsie.
Albany Academy is back in the title game after losing to Park, 59-57, last year.
An estimated crowd of 2,000 watched as Mahoney scored 19 of his game-high 23 points in the first half, while Jackson had 11 of his 18 during that 16-minute span.
The Cadets closed the second quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 36-26 lead into halftime. Mahoney had all those points, including a buzzer-beating three after Jackson had missed free throws in the waning seconds.
Park trimmed the deficit to seven in the second half but got no closer.
“Two guys combined for 30 points in the first half and these were the two guys we were supposed to be keying on," Park coach Rich Jacob said. “We didn’t hold our end up. Our deal was to take away their strengths. ... We didn’t do that.”
Noah Hutchins finished with 18 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals in the final game of his scholastic career for Park School (26-3).
Though 6-8 senior Quentin Nnagbo picked up two early fouls and a quick third during a brief re-entry in the second quarter, he finished with 16 points, four rebounds and a steal. He scored six of the Pioneers’ first 10 points before taking a seat with his second foul and the game tied 10-10.
“It threw us off a little bit the presence inside for us on offense,” said Hutchins of Nnagbo’s foul trouble, “but defensively August came out shooting and that’s what hurt us the most.”
Park's return to Glens Falls came with three sophomores as regular starters along with returnees Noah Hutchins and Nnagbo.
At this time last year, there was talk of Park repeating because of the number of players the team anticipated returning. Things changed during the offseason with three key players heading to prep schools.
“When you’re struggling to make stops you’re going to struggle to win,” Jacob said. “We’re proud of our accomplishments. This is not the way any team wants to end their season.
"That being said, you have to give credit where credit is due. That’s with Albany Academy. They earned it.”
“It’s been a great season,” Nnagbo said. “It’s been a privilege being among Park School of Buffalo, winning the Monsignor Martin championship, state Catholic and coming back to Federation. No regrets.”