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Babylon basketball, enjoying a revival, is in a New York state of mind

Babylon's Fernando Vazquez during the New York State

Babylon's Fernando Vazquez during the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B state finals. (March 16, 2013) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. -- If Long Island schools participated in the state football tournament, which plays its Final Four annually at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, rest assured Babylon players and fans would be very familiar with Routes 17 and 81.

The Panthers would, no doubt, have traveled the road to Syracuse quite frequently, since the small South Shore school located right next to the Babylon LIRR terminal has won five Long Island and 10 Suffolk County championships in Class IV.

But hoops? Whoops!

Until this season, that train never left the station. Next stop, Glens Falls might as well have been next stop Atchison, Topeka or Santa Fe. But the 2012-13 Babylon boys basketball team has ridden the express into the school's history books.

After trailing by 16 points last night, the Panthers rallied. Watervliet's Tyler McLeod missed a straightaway jumper at the buzzer as Babylon and Watervliet went to overtime with the score tied at 56.

The Panthers won their first Long Island championship and earned their first trip to the state Class B Final Four. They made the most of the excursion, too, rallying from a 15-point first-half deficit to defeat Syracuse Westhill in Friday night's semifinal to earn a spot in Saturday night's championship game against Watervliet.

"Even my Dad didn't think we'd get this far," Babylon's star point guard Fernando Vazquez said Friday night, after he put on a memorable show with 40 points, 15 in the fourth quarter.

Fernando Vazquez Sr. hugged his son after that game, which was only seven points shy of matching the state tournament record for points in a game, 47, set by Adonal Foyle of Hamilton in 1994. The Vazquez family moved to Long Island in the fall of 2011 and rented in the Half Hollow Hills West school district for a year. Vazquez made the Colts' varsity, but didn't play much. When the family found a home in Babylon, Fernando Jr. also found a home as a starting point guard, where he has made steady improvement and finished the season averaging more than 20 points a game.

Like the Panthers' program, Vazquez was off the radar in the preseason, but that all changed once Babylon qualified for the Suffolk playoffs as the No. 1 seed in Class B.

When news of Vazquez's breathtaking 40-point performance reached Long Island, families changed plans and drove north by northwest to the Adirondack region to see if Babylon could add a state title to its cache for this school year, which already includes county and L.I. titles in football and basketball.

Though Babylon has not been a traditional hoops power in recent years, it does have some noteworthy history. In the pre-Glens Falls state tournament era (before 1978), the Panthers won consecutive L.I. titles in 1975 and '76, led by guard Glenn Vickers (Iona), who is enshrined in that school's sports Hall of Fame.

Matt Brust was a star for Babylon in the 1980s, earning a scholarship to North Carolina. Brust eventually transferred to St. John's, where he played for three seasons and led the team to the 1989 NIT championship.

Recently, J.T. Pate became the school's all-time leading scorer in 2009 and ranks 10th in L.I. history with 2,049 points.

This season, new chapters have been written under third-year coach Chris Morra, who said of states, "It's been an unbelievable feeling for the kids and their parents in the stands who have been cheering them on." At the high school that sits in the shadow of a train station, the hoops program is on the right track.

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