NEW PALTZ – The big question of the night seemed to be answered in the first half of this Section 9 Class A quarterfinal matchup between New Paltz and Wallkill. Question: Could the Huguenots rebound from their devistating loss to Spackenkill in the final seconds of the MHAL Championship last Thursday night? The early answer was a strong “maybe” because New Paltz led Wallkill 10-8 after one and 22-21 at halftime. But the next ponder was if New Paltz could hang through a tight game down the stretch, because this match up looked like it was headed in that direction.
The Huguenots came in as the big favorite, seeded #2 in the post season, Wallkill was seeded #7. The big elephant in the room was the fact that while New Paltz top scorer, Axel Rodriquez had a cool 10 points at halftime, Wallkill’s top gun, Justin Dunikowski had no points. “I was really off in the first half, but I told my teammates at halftime not to worry because it will come”. And boy did it!
Dunikowski got his first points of the night off a three pointer in the third quarter, then hit another three and a two for 8 points and that was all he needed to open the floodgates.
With New Paltz holding a 36-31 lead heading into the final eight minutes, Coach Stu Robinson smiled in the team huddle and looked pleased and calm. Even though Rodriquez went completely cold in the third, Robinson’s team was still leading thanks to Jimmy Verney picking up the slack in the third with eight points.. “I just need a couple of you guys to give me a couple more minutes then I can give you a blow”, he said to his starters seated before him. Robinson probably figured his guys could build up a little more of a lead for some more breathing room on the scoreboard.
But what no one figured was that Dunikowski was about to blow the lid off his game. He was a one man wrecking crew and picked up five three pointers and a total of 16 points in the 4th quarter, helping Wallkill to take the lead down the stretch. Granted the lead was only a two point lead at best, but every time New Paltz hit a three, Dunikowski hit one right back. Ryan Castle also picked a good time to get in his rhythm. He was in early foul trouble, down on himself, but came through with seven critical points including the eventual game winning basket. ” I was in early trouble and really down on the way I was playing in the early part of the game, but my teammates and my coach really picked me up by reminding me that the game isn’t over until its over”
Back to that early question…the final moments of the game was eerily similar to the MHAL championship game against Spackenkill. In that game, Spackenkill came all the way back from a 14 point deficit to take the lead with under a minute remaining; New Paltz was down one and had one final shot with about four seconds left in the game, but couldn’t convert. In this game, it was basically the same situation; down by one, Burke inbounded to Rodriquez at half court with just 3.8 seconds remaining. Rodriquez drove to the basket as three Panthers crashed in on him. He offered the ball to the basket, bodies banged, the offering was short, the buzzer sounded, no whistle, and the Panthers bench ran out on the court into an overjoyed pile of players right in front of the Wallkill fans in the stands.
For New Paltz, Rodriquez finished with 17 points, Jimmy Verney had 16.
Castle and Dunikowski scored ALL of Wallkill’s 23 points in the final quarter, leading the Panthers to a 54-53 upset win and the happy bus ride home.
Wallkill will now face Poughkeepsie in the semifinals. Both teams met twice during the regular season, each beating the other on the road.