By Jeffrey McDaniel
The narrow, fluorescent hallway to get into the Beacon High gym last Friday night was bubbling with Haldane fans in blue and white, frothy to garner bleacher seats and cheer the boys basketball team, as they battled for the Class C regional title. The Friday before Haldane had knocked off archrival Tuckahoe at County Center in White Plains, in a stunning come-from-behind victory, winning their first Section I title in 13 years. And on Tuesday afternoon, they’d knocked off Section 9 champ S.S. Seward.
All that stood between the Blue Devils and a spot in the States was Friends Academy, a private school from leafy Locust Valley, Long Island, 30 minutes outside of Queens. Friends may be a Quaker school, (with a $29,000 yearly tuition), but the team’s play was anything but passive.
Friends employed an aggressive full-court man-to-man press that extended the defensive conversation deep into the Haldane backcourt. Suddenly things that were supposed to be easy, like throwing the ball in and getting into a half-court set, proved to be dicey. In the first quarter alone, the fast fingered Friends forced 9 turnovers, many that were fiendishly converted into fast break buckets.
There’s no way to simulate in practice the kind of intensity that Friends unleashed: hands-up, a chest right in your chest, feet anticipating where you are trying to be. It took a toll, and when Haldane did get a shot, it was often contested and out of rhythm. On offense, Friends passed the ball so swiftly and crisply in the first half that they got numerous wide-open looks from behind the 3-point line, burying five trifectas.
I don’t know how many recruits are on the Friends roster, but there were at least four players who balled at a very high-level and two in particular who seem poised to play in college. The cumulative effect was pretty impressive. Friends was athletic, talented, well-coached, and disciplined. This is not to say that Haldane went gently into the good night. They lost, but they did not get outcompeted. They scrapped ferociously, went down with gusto, and even made a mini-run in the third quarter.
The Haldane faithful (probably about 85 percent of the building) roared after every basket and hustle play. It wasn’t just families in the stands either. It was former players smelling the glory of years past. Teachers. Fellow students. The retired superintendent. Kids who play other sports. Neighbors. Members of the girls team that would play the following night. Elementary and middle school students dreaming of their varsity moment.
Haldane’s team has a good combination of smart role players, defensive length, and one legitimate star player: Peter Hoffmann, who can shoot from the outside, has a nice pull-up jumper, and can take it to the rack. In one particularly lyrical moment, Hoffman drove to the hoop, a Friends player moved into his path; Hoffman instinctively slid the ball from his left hand to his right at the last second, and, as the contact was initiated, flicked the ball gently toward the rim, getting the shooter’s roll. Three-point play.
Hoffmann scored 23 points in the 71-49 losing effort. With a couple minutes left, he lost the ball while dribbling and landed on the hardwood. There was a timeout, and when the game resumed, Hoffmann was on the bench, a signal to everyone that the game was for all intents and purposes over. Hoffmann had played so hard and well that I had hoped he would exit the game between free throws, so he could get the standing ovation he deserved. When I mentioned this to the man sitting next to me, he said, “this way he will remember that feeling all year and come back hungrier.” Wise words indeed.
Hoffmann is a junior, and most of the team is returning. They have a lot to build on. And a lot to celebrate. They gutted out three post-season victories, (two coming from behind in the second-half). They marched the Golden Ball back to Main Street. They finished in the top eight in the state in Class C. Coach [Joe] Virgadamo had these boys ready to play and kept them cool under pressure.
A case could be made that Virgadamo’s defensive adjustments in the Sectional Finals against Tuckahoe is what made that win possible. He switched to a box-and-one in the second half, which severely limited Tuckahoe’s star player Max Pearce, who’d been dominant up to that point. Haldane senior John Rotando, a brown-haired ball of competitive fire, stuck to Pearce like a shadow dipped in Krazy Glue.
In this post-season run, Mike Halpin grabbed gutsy rebounds and made put-backs and timely jumpers, and Garrett Quigley slid on his hard hat and banged inside. Long-armed Edmund Fitzgerald had several big blocks in the paint. Will Zuvic nailed a few long-range clutch bombs. And the other team members stepped up when called upon. The Haldane team embodied qualities we as a community aspire toward: hustle, unselfishness, determination. Great job!