Herzog covers high school sports as a writer and columnist. His primary area of coverage is football,
GLENS FALLS, N.Y.
It takes two to tangle.
That's what Tavon Sledge and Jabarie Hinds did during Saturday's state Class AA semifinal game between Half Hollow Hills West and Mount Vernon.
Sledge won the individual battle of elite major college-bound guards, but Hinds' team won the game -- and Hinds came up with two huge shots over Sledge with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
They guarded each other for the first quarter and intermittently thereafter, when Hinds got into foul trouble. Sledge scored 18 points, including a couple of jet-propelled, zigzag drives that brought the crowd to its feet. He also had 10 assists, some of the sensational variety.
Hinds, who sat out the entire second quarter with two fouls, scored only 10 points and definitely was off his game, thanks to Sledge's pressure defense. But Hinds' pair of crossover- dribble, step-back jumpers over Sledge set the tone for his team's fourth-quarter advantage.
"I felt like I did a good job on him, but they had other kids who stepped up that we didn't expect to hurt us," Sledge said.
"Mutual respect," Hinds said. "It was an extra challenge to go against him."
Fittingly, their legs got tangled and they tumbled hard to the floor in the final seconds of the Knights' 69-65 victory. Sledge wound up on top of Hinds, and after they disengaged, the 5-8 Iowa State-bound Sledge reached up and rubbed the head of the 5-11 West Virginia-bound Hinds.
"We definitely have a history," Sledge said of their frequent AAU matchups over the years.
When their final encounter as elite high school players was over, Sledge had a hollow personal triumph that didn't soothe the hurt of losing in the state tournament for a second straight season. He crouched dejectedly at midcourt after the final buzzer and later shed some tears with his teammates behind closed doors in the locker room.
He had earned the adulation of a couple of thousand fans, and, tellingly, the admiration of the opposing coach. "What can I say about Sledge? He's a mini-monster," Mount Vernon coach Bob Cimmino said. "We didn't want to get into a gunslinger fight with one guy. He's so great that he handled traps that have melted other players."
Sledge never had a meltdown. He played all 32 minutes, most of it at full throttle. On several coast-to-coast drives, it seemed as though he were going at top speed, then somehow shifted into a higher gear to blow by two or even three defenders for an acrobatic layup.
"He's the best player in the state, I don't care what anyone said," a defiant Hills West coach Bill Mitaritonna said, aware that Hinds and Lutheran's Achraf Yacoubou were voted by the state's coaches association as co-winners of New York's Mr. Basketball award. "No one has more heart. I thought his defense on Hinds was amazing. He took on the challenge and did a great job with it."
Hinds didn't back down either. The Knights had the luxury of four different players rotating on defense against Sledge, but Hinds asked for the task in the fourth quarter. "He's the New York State player of the year for a reason," Cimmino declared, unaware of Mitaritonna's comments but clearly defensive about his own player's status. "Those early fouls were like a punch to the stomach for him. But he fought through it like great players do."
Sledge and Hinds danced until the music stopped. Not one step was a tango.