Last winter it came in overtime of the Section 1 semifinals, this year in the Section 1 outbracket round by one point, but in back-to-back years large boys basketball seniors classes at Edgemont worked hard and came up just short in heartbreaking fashion.
No. 16 Croton-Harmon topped No. 17 Edgemont 65-64 on Feb. 16 in a back and forth game.
“Coach [Ben] Martucci at Croton is one of the best,” coach Craig Moses said. “It’s always fun coaching against him. While we’ve had a lot of success in Croton over the last two years he does a great job with his team. Coming in it was really fun as a coach because playing against him is very much like a chess match. We each changed strategies and defenses, offenses and kind of punched and counterpunched the entire game.
Edgemont dealt with injuries for much of January into February, which took a toll on the team when it came to competing and seeding as they finished the regular season 7-13.
“Ultimately I really think the kids did a good job of embracing the opportunities and trying to make the most of them,” Moses said. “I still believe that while we didn’t finish up the way we wanted to, injuries aside I think that our record probably isn’t indicative of how much we actually grew this season.”
Coach Craig Moses pulled up players from junior varsity, sophomore Joe Vadakkan and freshman Max Ho, and had a chance to see a glimpse of the team’s future.
“I think our guys did a good job of embracing that next man up mentality,” Moses said. “We obviously looked at the start of the season at who we were going to have in our starting rotation one way and essentially in the final game of the season we had two starters who were not initially penciled in at the beginning of the year. I think the players that were players who were able to step in and maybe get some minutes they normally wouldn’t have really took advantage of the experience.”
Seniors Timothy Chan, Ethan Sommers and Will Shah and sophomores Brandon Gibbons and Vadakkan got the start against Croton-Harmon for the Panthers, with seniors Milan Gialleonardo and Aaron Larit injured.
“When we got down the stretch, the other JV player I pulled up, Max Ho, who is only a freshman, played essentially from about three minutes into the first quarter and didn’t come off the court against until the final buzzer sounded,” Moses said. “He played really great. I thought he stepped up.”
The three underclassmen in Gibbons, Vadakkan and Ho shined along with sophomore Drew Goldoff, who played “valuable minutes off the bench” and hit a big three-pointer.
“We got a lot of young guys valuable playoff experience, which not every team can say,” Moses said. “Actually Croton can say the same thing because they didn’t have a single senior on the roster. My hope is our guys will really grow from this.”
Playing without Gialleonardo and Larit made Edgemont’s road much tougher.
“Those two guys are two key components,” Moses said. “Milan was probably our best perimeter defender by far and is able to stretch the court and is a ball-handler for us as well. Losing him was a huge blow and Aaron was physically our tallest player and he was our X-factor guy. He rebounds, he can handle the ball, he can stretch the floor and hit shots. Missing those two guys and their senior experience on the court was a huge deal. That was definitely a huge hole to fill and our younger guys did a valiant job of doing it. There was definitely a learning curve for them.”
Croton-Harmon got out to a 10-4 lead, but Edgemont went up 13-12 at the end of the first quarter on a basket by Gibbons. The game was tight all the way through the second quarter and Ho helped the Panthers keep their 31-30 lead at halftime with a bucket.
The teams traded runs to start the third quarter. Croton-Harmon started out 5-0, but Edgemont rebounded to go 7-0 to go back up 38-35 with 5:38 left. Sommers and Gibbons hit three pointers for leads of 46-38 and 49-41, respectively. The third quarter ended with Edgemont up 53-48 with a Croton-Harmon buzzer-beater from just past midcourt, which appeared to have been released after the buzzer.
In the fourth, Croton-Harmon’s Orlando Gomez hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 58-58 and Aidan Callahan put Croton-Harmon up 65-62 with 1:42 left. Gibbons closed out the scoring with a pair of free throws. The Panthers missed a shot with 2.2 seconds left.
“They opened up an early lead and we had to make some defensive adjustments and they worked really well,” Moses said. “It was something we saw on film, so we put in a new defense that we hadn’t used all year, a 1-3-1 matchup zone, which we were able to use and it ended up going from down seven or eight to stretching our lead to 10 or 11. Going into the half we came out on a run and played well into the third. Then slowly but surely they made some adjustments, which started to counter our defense and we had to switch our defense throughout. It was kind of back and forth in that regard.”
The Panthers graduate Gialleonardo, Justin Yang, Chan, Nathan Ripp, Sommers, Larit, All-League honoree Shah, Max Yang and Rajan Sandhu.
“It’s an interesting experience coaching a school like Edgemont and its size where it seems to come in waves where there are years you’re going to be on top of the world and years where it’s a rebuild,” Moses said. “Every year you have a lot of seniors you expect to have to rebuild each year.”
Edgemont will return current junior Jonah Vadakkan, sophomores Gibbons, Joe Vadakkan and Goldoff, and freshman Ho.
“I’m really excited,” Moses said. “I thought both Joe and Max contributed incredible valuable minutes, especially Max as a freshman. He’s going to be a talented player and I’m excited to see what he can do alongside Brandon in our backcourt the next couple of years. I have to remind myself as good as Brandon is he’s only a sophomore this year.”
Gibbons, a sophomore second-year starter and first-year captain, was named All-Conference after what Moses called a “phenomenal year.” Next year he’ll be an underclassman working with players his age or younger for the first time.
“Having a guy like him, whether you’re a strong team or a rebuilding team or wherever you are with your roster, when you have a point guard as talented and steady and as unphased and cold-blooded as Brandon is, that’s such a luxury as a coach,” Moses said. “That’s one position where, if you can come in with someone you have complete confidence in, it changes everything. He’s like an extension of me on the court. In big moments I look at Brandon and it’s his world to make the right play. He’ll call it out and he’s had success with it. I’m excited to see him moving forward as he embraces a leadership role.”
Moses hopes to see the team bounce back quickly between the potential for players to return to the program in addition to talent coming up from JV coach Justin Brucale.
“He’s been phenomenal year after year developing our guys and having them completely prepared to come up in our system and play,” Moses said. “I expect that to be no different next year. Our JV team went through some ups and downs this year themselves. They had some phenomenal games and some games where they learned a lot. Ultimately I think they’ve grown from that experience and they’ll come in and like every season we’ll start off with the goal of being a better team at the end of the year than we were to start.”
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