GLENS FALLS -- For a team that made it to the State Boys Basketball Tournament on a last-minute regulation shot that produced an overtime win, Babylon’s 67-57 Class B win over Westhill of Syracuse on Friday was a bit of a relief.
“It felt great because it wasn’t just a last-minute shot that we had to overcome,” senior Fernando Vazquez said. “To do this together, it feels great.”
It’s the Panthers’ first trip to the state tournament, and with the win, they advanced to play Watervliet on Saturday at 9 p.m. at the Civic Center.
“It really is an unbelievable feeling for these kids and their families,” Babylon coach Chris Morra said. “Their parents were all in the stands cheering them on. I can’t imagine how they feel as a parent for our high school to be doing what we’re doing. They’ve got to be tremendously proud.”
Though Westhill had a 37-24 lead going into halftime, Morra said his team didn’t panic or harp on the negative. Part of the strategy to make a comeback in the second half was to change the defensive looks every possession.
“We went to a man to a zone to a zone press,” Morra said. “They were settling in, and they were hitting open shots, and when you switch the defense on them, it’s hard to call out a play when they don’t know which defense is running.”
As the last seconds of the first half ticked off, Vazquez took the ball end-to-end for a layup, which additionally gave the team some momentum. He led all scorers with a season-high 40 points, including four 3-pointers, which is a lot for someone who claims he doesn’t shoot the 3 often.
“I was feeling it,” he said of his shot. “I never really take 3s and to take them (from) that far (away) too, I was just going with it.”
Coming into the game, Morra said Vazquez had the green light to shoot those 3s, knowing his shot had improved.
“As you can tell tonight, he’s developing as a 3-point shooter,” Morra said.
It was Vazquez who gave the halftime speech that pumped the team back up. It’s the senior’s first and only year playing for Babylon.
“Fernando doesn’t want the season to end. At halftime, he basically took the huddle over,” Morra said. “... He said we’ve got to work harder on defense, and we can never give up. He basically put the team on his back tonight down the stretch.”
Westhill coach Kevin King said his team may have underestimated just how good Vazquez was.
“That kid was better than we realized,” King said. “He was banging 3s, pretty much getting to the basket at will.”
The Warriors blew big leads in the games leading up to this one but still managed to win. This one, however, they couldn’t pull out.
“They started pounding the ball inside and getting fouled, and we kept shooting jump shots,” King said. “It’s who we are. We’re not real big, we don’t have an inside presence, and they pushed us further out in the zone, and we allowed that too much.”
Vazquez’s best point total before Friday was 32, which happened in the county final. Rewriting a new high came at a good time though, he said.
“For this to be my breaking record point-wise, it was amazing,” he said.