GLENS FALLS, N.Y. -- Babylon's incredible and incredibly long journey came to a disheartening end Saturday night. But the Panthers traveled oh so far and came oh so close to reaching their ultimate destination.
Instead, they had to settle for showing they belong among the state's elite teams by rallying from a 16-point halftime deficit to grab a fourth-quarter lead before losing in overtime to Watervliet, 72-60, in the state Class B boys basketball final.
The Panthers finished 21-4 and made it to the state Final Four for the first time in school history. They were led by tournament sensation Fernando Vazquez, who followed up his 40-point semifinal performance with a 27-point effort in the final and set the two-game record for points in the Class B Final Four.
"That's an individual thing. It's nice, but it's all about the team," he said. "The scoreboard doesn't change how we blended in. I'm happy. We played well. I'm proud of my boys."
There was plenty to be proud of in defeat, which is why the Panthers were not disconsolate after the game, choosing to focus on the positives of their remarkable season.
They erased a 15-point deficit in the semifinals to win, 67-57, and made a 35-19 halftime deficit in the final disappear with a scintillating second half. The Panthers tied it for the first time on Jake Carlock's hanging bank shot in the lane. They took their first lead of the night, 53-51, on two free throws by Ray Wardell.
Tyler McLeod scored five straight points -- a driving three-point play and two free throws -- to put Watervliet ahead 54-53 with 3:24 left. Two more free throws by Wardell gave Babylon a 55-54 lead. Wardell, who played an excellent game with nine of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and 10 rebounds, made another free throw, but McLeod's driving layup tied it at 56.
After Vazquez had the ball swiped away in the final seconds, McLeod missed two jumpers, the last as the buzzer sounded, to force overtime.
Then, and only then, did the Panthers buckle. They never led again. Jordan Gleason scored six of his 21 points in the extra period and McLeod (21 points, 11 rebounds) keyed a 7-0 run with a strong putback as the Cannoneers (17-8) pulled away by hitting seven free throws. Henassy McConico added 16 points off the bench for Watervliet.
"We've been in that position so many times, we probably felt a little more comfortable than we should have," Wardell said. "We committed some stupid fouls. They made the plays we should have made and executed. We battled as hard as we could and we played our hearts out."
It hurt that Wardell and Carlock (nine points, nine rebounds, five assists) fouled out in OT. "It wasn't anything we did wrong. It was what they did well," coach Chris Morra said. "They made some big plays in overtime, and that was the difference."
Like his players, he saw much good in the team's performance all weekend. "Ray was unbelievable tonight, and for Fernando, this was just a routinely spectacular game. It's what he does," Morra said. "I'm very proud of this team. We didn't panic and we played tough. We stayed true to our game and we came back again."
This time the comeback fell short. The magic ran out in the final game, but as Babylon players posed for pictures on the court after the game, cheered by parents and friends and smiling all the while, it was clear the magic of the 2012-13 season will long endure.