Pacey Hopkins glides in for two points during the state semifinal win. Corinne Wright photo.
Story and video by JOHN ANDERSON, photos by CORINNE WRIGHT
GLENS FALLS — The last time Avoca-Prattsburgh saw a team that wanted to play at the same pace was a regular season game against Fillmore. The teams combined for almost 200 points during one of A-P’s 25 victories this season.
Today in the state finals? If you are watching at home or from the hockey area at the Glens Falls Civic Center’s Cool Inspiring Arena, please keep your seat belts buckled at all times.
“We both like to get up and down the court and defend a little bit, it should be a fast-paced game,” Avoca-Prattsburgh coach Brian Putnam said.
While Avoca-Prattsburgh at 26-0 is the No, 1 ranked team in the state, several experts at Glens Falls feel the Heuvelton Bulldogs (23-4) ranked No. 3 are the favorite to win the state title because they have the speed to match A-P and some size. They average 67.3 points a game, A-P is scoring at an 85.1 points a game clip.
In the Hornell Sun preview of the state final four, Bill Collmer warned us about 5-9 junior guard Nathan Mashaw who averages 18.3 points a game. On Friday, Mashaw scored a game-high 27 points to lead Heuvelton over South Kortright, 68-47.
Heuvelton, the Section X champions, also had 19 from Tristan Lovely.
Heuvelton coach Josh McAllister said his team is going to need others to step up today to beat A-P. Seniors Cole Rickett (5-11 senior center) and Jed Crayford, both tough inside, could be the difference.
“We had fouled trouble (against South Kortright) and players stepped up like Connor Phillips (6-foot-4, junior forward and (6-3 junior forward Lucas (Thornhill) is gaining confidence and we need that (against A-P) more guys stepping up with confidence,” said McAllister.
As for Lovely, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, McAllister said, “He’s been a grown man since he was 14 years old, when he gets to the basket and makes his shots, we are tough to beat.”
McAllister has heard about A-P during the season, but he said his focus was winning the state semifinal game.
“I’ve heard about A-P, they have a couple nice players and it should be a good match up. If we take care of our own business and play defense, we have a shot,” McAllister added.
As the seconds ticked down during Avoca-Prattsburgh’s 59-42 win over Oppenheim-Epratah-St. Johnsville, Putnam turned to his assistant coaches and said “one more, one more.”
After the win, the team went to dinner together and came back to the Civic Center to watch some of the Class AA finals. Putnam then went back to work scouting his opponent for today.
“They look like a very good team, they want to get out and go a little bit. Mashaw can knock it down and they have other kids who can score,” Putnam said. “They rebound well. You have to account for the Lovely kid. It’s a nice squad we are going against for sure.”
Putnam, who was on the Prattsburgh state championship team in 1991 with assistant coach Zac Devoe (they defeated Argyle, 80-72 to finish 29-0), is glad to see the kids having this chance.
“It’s incredible to be here for the kids,” Putnam said. “Some of these seniors didn’t have this opportunity before, Covid did not allow this to happen. Reaching the state final is a lot of hard work that has paid off for them, it’s definitely a great place to be and the following from our communities has been awesome.”
A-P senior Pacey Hopkins was on an undefeated Avoca team that had the state finals shut down when the Covid pandemic hit. The Avoca-Prattsburgh team his junior year won sectionals but once again, there was a fear Covid would be in the state tournament. This season, after wearing masks and following rules, things were lifted and he has a chance to win a state title today.
For Hopkins, the strange circumstances means he has ended two seasons with a victory and not in states. As a result, he has been a part of 60 straight wins. Today, he gets a chance to make that streak mean more than ever.
“I’ve wanted to do this my whole high school career and it kept getting taken away,” Hopkins said. “But now that we are here, it’s great and I’m really excited for the championship game.”
Putnam, who played for Hall of Fame coach Jim Burke has heard his share of title game speeches.
Today, he gets to make one.
“The message always has to be, its business as normal,” Putnam said. “I think if you get too psyched up and too high it will have an effect on the way we go, and you don’t want to get too low. It has to be business as usual, you don’t want to change anything at this point in the season.”
Senior Tucker Gerych is also excited.
“It feels amazing, it’s a great atmosphere, I couldn’t ask to play with a greater group of kids my senior year, I really couldn’t,” he said.
Haden Abbott added, “It feels amazing to be in the state finals, but we are not done yet. We have one more game, we’ll get there.”
Sophomore Macoy Putnam, son of the head coach, said A-P has the team, from the starters to key contributors, to win a title.
“It would be an amazing thing to win (states), we haven’t been here in a long time,” Macoy Putnam said.
“We worked hard all year long and that’s been our goal. We have the chemistry, we love to play with each other and it works out really well.