Build huge lead and then hold off Tuckahoe comeback
Riding the momentum that saw the Blue Devils jump out to a 22-point lead with 30 seconds left in the first half, the Haldane High School boys’ basketball team held on to upset No. 1 Tuckahoe, 63-53, in the Section I, Class C title game on Saturday (March 4) at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.
Haldane (18-4) will open the regional tournament at 8 p.m. on Wednesday (March 8) against Section IX, Class C champion Rhinebeck at O’Neill High School in Highland Falls. The game will be broadcast on the NFHS Network.
With a big lead in the second half, Haldane went into protection mode in the third quarter and watched the Tigers mount a comeback.
A focused Blue Devils team — with a variety of key contributors — came out like it was shot out of a canon, leading led 18-6 after one quarter and 38-14 at halftime. Haldane stretched the lead to 44-16 with 3:59 left in the third.
As Haldane started to slow the game and kill clock, things got sloppy, with Tuckahoe forcing turnovers and outscoring the Blue Devils, 20-7, in the quarter, which ended with Haldane ahead, 45-34.
Tuckahoe sliced the deficit to six points (59-53) with 32.6 seconds to play, but it was too little, too late. Haldane hit its free throws down the stretch, winning its first Section I championship since 2016.
Video by Jeffrey McDaniel
“It feels great,” said Coach Joe Virgadamo, now in his 17th season. “We were on a mission today, and it showed. This group earned it, and deserved it.”
Virgadamo said the team’s mindset during that stunning first half was “ ‘We don’t practice tomorrow if we don’t play like dogs for 32 minutes,’ ” he said. “In the semifinal, we let Hamilton set the tone. Today we set the tone. Damn, that was a beautiful half. And we’re gonna keep this thing moving.”
Senior Matteo Cervone (12 points) was named the tournament MVP, and junior Matt Nachamkin (21 points) and senior Ben Bozsik (10 points) were named to the All-Tournament team.
Nachamkin broke out with seven in the first quarter, and, along with senior Ryan Eng-Wong, he delivered timely 3-pointers in the quick start. Cervone forced his way to eight points in the second, after scoring a single bucket in the first.
In the fourth quarter Nachamkin came up with a timely eight points, and Bozsik had a bucket and four key free throws. Nate Stickle finished with six points, and Eng-Wong had five. Chase Garcia led the Tigers with 29 points.
“Our hard work paid off,” Bozsik said after the win. “It feels better than I expected. We knew we had offensive power, we just wanted to do it on the defensive end. That’s what we did.”
This was the final shot at a title for this Haldane group, which lost in the semifinals in 2020 and 2021, and lost in the final in 2022.
“We had a goal from the beginning of the year,” Cervone said. “It was to win the section. Next we want to win the region. So we’re happy we won, but it’s back to work tomorrow.”
Of the team’s fast start, Cervone said: “I knew we were playing our best basketball. We struggled a bit in the second half, but Matt, Evan [Giachinta], all helped, and we were playing hard and having fun. We knew they would go on a run, but we weathered it.
“I came here [to the County Center] in 2015 and watched the team, and I wanted a title so bad,” he added. “I’m just grateful I finally got one. With this group, we had a lot of fun.”