STONE RIDGE - Almost as painful as the sprained ankles for Patrick Murphy was accepting that he would have to watch his inexperienced team fend for itself.
Murphy was the last remaining starter from New Paltz's section championship teams, the 6-foot-7 centerpiece around whom the roster would be rebuilt. So, when he injured both legs on Jan. 10, including a high ankle sprain that carried a six-week recovery, it could have spelled trouble for them.
"They knew they'd have to fight that perception, but they believed in themselves," coach Stuart Robinson said. “Pushing forward despite not having Pat, that's a testament to them."
Justin DeMaria continued his ascension and the resilient bunch won five of its next seven to clinch a Mid-Hudson Athletic League tournament berth. Good news soon followed: Murphy was cleared to practice last week and then given a go-ahead to play Tuesday.
DeMaria scored 22 points, including five 3-pointers, and Murphy had 16 points and nine rebounds for New Paltz in a 58-56 win over Marlboro in a MHAL semifinal at SUNY Ulster.
The Huguenots face Millbrook in the final at 5 p.m. Thursday. New Paltz, the defending Section 9 Class A champions, lost in the last two MHAL finals.
"It means a lot to be back here and have a chance to change that,” DeMaria said. “We're coming out with a lot of energy.”
Murphy scored nine in the fourth, including a left-wing 3-pointer that made it 56-50 with 58 seconds remaining. The forward showed little evidence of a month-long layoff.
"It's hard and it throws you off balance," he said of injuring both ankles. "Physical therapy got me back and I tried to keep the right mindset."
The teams went to intermission tied at 22 and, after a halftime speech in which Robinson told the team "we were playing wack," DeMaria said – paraphrasing – adjustments were made, and the offense flowed more easily.
Jeffrey Reynoso and Jackson Soper each added five points for New Paltz (13-6). Korbyn Samuels scored 20 and CJ Faircloth had 12 for Marlboro (13-6).
DeMaria opened the fourth quarter with a three to give New Paltz a 39-34 lead. After Murphy's pull-up jumper put them up 53-45 with 2:03 to go, Matt Drake answered with a three and a baseline jumper to get the Iron Dukes within 3. Before Murphy’s dagger 3-pointer.
"Having him back on the floor alone was significant for us and he hit some clutch shots," Robinson said. "For him to come back and perform in a situation like this says a lot about him."