Fernando Vazquez scores 40 to lead Babylon to state Class B final
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GLENS FALLS, N.Y. -- The kid with the streak of red-orange in his hair had the green light. Any time he wanted it. All night long. And boy, did Fernando Vazquez light up the brand-new court at the creaky old Glens Falls Civic Center.
Vazquez, a senior guard who transferred to Babylon after sitting on the bench last season for Half Hollow Hills West, scored a career-high 40 points, 15 in a dazzling fourth quarter, as the Panthers rallied for a 67-57 victory over Syracuse Westhill Friday night in a state Class B semifinal.
Babylon, which came back from a 15-point second-quarter deficit, will face Watervliet for the state championship at 9 Saturday night.
"I was feeling it. Every shot was going in," said Vazquez, who sank 13 of 18 field-goal attempts, including 4-for-7 from downtown, shot 10-for-12 from the free-throw line and was the primary force in Babylon's rally.
Even though it was a dreary first half for the Panthers (22-3) -- "We were definitely nervous playing in a big arena for the first time," Vazquez said -- he provided a hint of what was to come when he made a steal and dribbled coast-to-coast for a layup that beat the halftime buzzer and cut Babylon's deficit to 37-24.
"A little momentum boost," Babylon coach Chris Morra said. "It's always good to go into halftime having just scored. We didn't panic. I didn't yell. The players didn't get on each other. Then Fernando gave a little speech. He said to work harder on defense and not give up."
Morra made a tactical adjustment, alternating defensive alignments from man-to-man to zone press with each possession, and Vazquez did the rest.
If he walked the hotel hallways a little hunched over Friday night, it would be understandable. Said Morra, "He put the team on his back."
Vazquez -- who had the stripe in Babylon orange painted into his hair on a whim before the season -- scored 10 in the first, six in the second and nine in the third before really showing his true colors in the fourth.
After Westhill (20-3) took a 48-42 lead on its first possession, Vazquez grabbed control of the game with both hands. The righthander spun into the lane for a lefty layup and nailed a three from the top of the key.
Jake Carlock (nine points, five assists) converted a steal into a layup that gave Babylon its first lead of the night at 49-48. Vazquez then stepped into another straightaway trey -- a shot that followed a rainbow-like arc from even farther out -- and Brendan Laing (12 points) finished off a 12-0 run with a power move down low to put the Panthers on top 54-48.
"I never take threes," Vazquez said, "and definitely not from that far out."
But it was Friday night lights out for Vazquez this time. "I told him, 'If you have any open looks tonight, you've got the green light,' " Morra said.
Vazquez even added some black-and-blue to his color scheme when, at 5-10, he outmuscled two taller players for a pair of offensive rebounds, converting one into a bank shot that gave Babylon a 60-53 lead with 1:45 left.
Babylon converted seven straight free throws down the stretch to earn a berth in the state championship game for the first time in school history.
"Fernando,'' Morra said, "did not want the season to end."