Despite late comeback, Blue Devils lose by three

After winning 16 straight games — including a double-overtime thriller against Hamilton, a grind-it-out sectional championship battle with Tuckahoe and victories over Rhinebeck, Pierson and Canton that put Haldane in the state title game at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, only one thing was certain: The boys’ basketball Class C final on Saturday (March 18) against Randolph was going to end in elation or heartbreak.

Haldane teamAgainst Canton in the semifinal, Haldane overcame a 10-point deficit going into the fourth quarter to force overtime. Against Randolph, the deficit was 18 points. This time, a frantic comeback attempt fell one basket short when three long shots by the Blue Devils in the final seconds wouldn’t fall. The final was 58-55.

Randolph burned up the nets behind the three-point line, hitting 15, including eight by Jaiden Huntington, a 6-4 senior who finished with 28 points. Randolph scored all of its points in the first three quarters, except for two baskets, via the three.

The Blue Devils were outscored 20-8 in the third quarter but senior Matteo Cervone gave his team a shot in the arm by scoring Haldane’s first six points of the fourth (he had 10 of his 20 points in the period). The Blue Devils made their biggest push in the final 1:08, when senior Ryan Eng-Wong banked in a three-pointer to make it 55-50. Haldane forced a quick steal, and junior Matt Nachamkin scored to make it a 55-53 game with 49 seconds remaining.

Photos by Skip Pearlman

After Randolph went up four points again, Eng-Wong scored once more with 33 seconds left to make it 57-55.

The Cardinals went to the foul line but came up empty, giving Haldane the ball with a chance to tie or go ahead with 26 seconds left. But an ill-timed turnover gave the ball back to Randolph. Haldane fouled with 16 seconds left, and Randolph hit one free throw to put the team up by the final margin.

Eng-Wong — who was a member of Haldane’s state championship boys’ soccer team last fall (along with Nachamkin) — finished with 12 points, including nine in the fourth, and senior Will Bradley and Nachamkin each finished with eight points.

Photos by Amy Kubik

“Everyone is just heartbroken — we’re shocked,” Eng-Wong said afterward. “We fought so hard, that’s why it hurts. We got so close.”

Road to FinalOf his fourth-quarter hot hand, Eng-Wong said: “I always try to come through when the game’s on the line. The whole team does. Whenever adversity hits, we always rise. I’m so proud of everyone here.”

The loss was a bittersweet ending for the Haldane seniors, including Cervone, who finished his four-year varsity career with 1,222 points and was named to the All-Section team. “It sucks,” said the forward, who will play next winter for Bowdoin College in Maine. “We almost had it, but hopefully the guys get it done next year for us.

“They shot threes pretty well, and we didn’t adjust,” he added. “That happens in basketball. This season has been the most fun I’ve had playing basketball. I love my teammates and my coaches, and I’m just thankful for the opportunity to play together.”

Haldane finished the season 21-5. Coach Joe Virgadamo, who was making his second trip to the title game (the Blue Devils were also runners-up in 2016), said that while his team had chances at the end, Randolph’s three-point barrage throughout the game was the difference.

“I feel so bad for these guys,” he said. “They deserved this one, but this wasn’t our night. Randolph shot well, and we have no regrets. We had three shots at the buzzer — that’s why I love this team. I’m going to miss them.

“These guys represented Haldane on and off the court, and the ride to get here was amazing. What a great season — second in the state, and to have all these memories forever. That’s what high school sports are all about.”

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Pearlman, a native of Carmel, was the sports editor of the Putnam County Courier in Carmel for 14 years and for the North County News in Yorktown Heights for 13 years. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Sports