Before the Harborfields boys basketball team took the court for the state Class A title game last Sunday, signs began popping up all over the Glens Falls Civic Center.
"Go Air Ba!" "J-Ring for 3" "KZ for 3"
These were among the hand-drawn salutes from Harborfields fans who had made the drive up from Greenlawn that morning. Clearly, they had a good read on the situation.
The Tornadoes capped a historic season with a 67-58 victory over previously unbeaten Tappan Zee to win the first state championship in school history. "For our families, for the school, for the community, this means a lot," said shooting guard Justin Ringen, the team's leading scorer. "To be the first sport ever to do it at Harborfields . . . it's surreal." They played Long Island Lutheran for the state Federation championship Saturday night, losing 62-61 on a three-pointer just before the buzzer
Actually, there was nothing surreal about it. Harborfields (22-2) was the real deal, the genuine article and the first team from Suffolk to win a state title since Amityville won its fourth straight in 2003 in Class B (which is now Class A).
Amityville coach Jack Agostino, the older brother of Harborfields coach Chris Agostino, was an eyewitness to history. "They earned the victory," Jack Agostino said after the state final, which was a four-point game with 27 seconds left. "Chris clearly has the best [public school] team in the state. No one can argue that -- not even his brother."
It was the much-anticipated sibling rivalry game on Feb. 24 that sent the Tornadoes spinning confidently down glory road. "That was our toughest game," stellar point guard Lucas Woodhouse said of Harborfields' 68-64 comeback victory over Amityville in the Suffolk title game on Feb. 24. "We knew every game after that would be much easier."
All season long, Woodhouse made things easier for his teammates. He improved his junior-year scoring average from 10 points a game to 16 and even raised his assists average from 10 to 13, best on Long Island. "Luke's role changed," Chris Agostino said. "We wanted him to be more of a scorer but still run the show. He did both. Justin's role changed, too. This year he was our primary shooter. Last year he was like the third option."
Ringen responded by averaging 20 points a game. John Patron gave the Tornadoes a legitimate inside presence, averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds. David Ba provided energy and athleticism and usually defended the top scorer. He averaged eight points and seven rebounds. Kevin Zabransky, a clutch long-range shooter, averaged nine points.
Harborfields breezed through an unbeaten league season and, after squeezing past Amityville, had no problem with South Side in the Long Island final.
At Glens Falls, the Tornadoes needed all the moving parts of their versatile and balanced starting lineup. In the semifinals against Bishop Kearney, they were clinging to a late 52-49 advantage when Ba grabbed an offensive rebound after a missed free throw. He passed to Woodhouse, who kicked it to Zabransky in the corner. "Z'' made the "3'' with 55 seconds left, and it was on to the final.
In that game, Ringen ran the team for long stretches with Woodhouse in foul trouble. The point guard and tournament MVP scored seven of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, and Ringen and Patron each scored 20 for the Tornadoes, who pulled away in the final minutes.
"Ever since the first practice on November 16th, we had one goal -- to win the state championship," Woodhouse said. "I was so happy when we won. I wish I could keep reliving those last 20 seconds."
As the clock ticked down to zero, Woodhouse and Ringen were able to bask in the euphoria of having achieved a childhood dream. "Justin and I have been friends since preschool," he said. "There's no one I'd rather share it with."
The road to the state championship wasn't so tough after all: Just follow the signs.