NEWBURGH – Jackson Soper’s favorite spot to shoot a 3-pointer is the left wing. But when the New Paltz junior received the ball in the right corner, there was no hesitation with the Section 9 Class A championship hanging in the balance.
Soper thought shot immediately, and he swished his corner three with 29 seconds left in overtime to stake the Huguenots to a 69-67 lead over Monticello.
An empty Monticello possession and a missed New Paltz free throw was followed by Monticello star guard Josh Gattling’s full-court desperation heave that missed. The Huguenots and Soper celebrated the school’s third consecutive section title and the second one earned in overtime.
Soper’s 3-pointer will be one of the most memorable plays of the season and forever remembered in New Paltz history.
“I knew it was going in and it felt good off my hand,” said Soper, who scored a team-high 22 points. Soper missed a potential game-winning free throw after tying the game at 64 with 24 seconds left in regulation. “I knew I had to step up otherwise it was going to be on me. I stepped up and paid off.”
New Paltz (17-6) becomes the first Section 9 school to win three consecutive Class A titles since the state expanded to five classifications in 2003-04. The Huguenots advance to a state first-round playoff against the winner of the Section 4 championship between Maine-Endwell and Johnson City. Tip off is 7:45 p.m. Wednesday at Vestal High School.
Coach Stu Robinson said the Huguenots’ third consecutive crown was more nerve-wracking than the first one, capped by a triple-overtime win over Saugerties in 2018, due to New Paltz’s path to the title.
The graduation of starting backcourt Axel Rodriguez and Casey Burke left New Paltz off the list of section favorites. New Paltz also overcame the loss of 6-foot-7 senior Patrick Murphy, the team’s top returning scorer who missed six weeks of the season with an ankle injury that was reaggravated in the first quarter of a section semifinal win over Minisink Valley. The Huguenots’ championship road included wins over No. 1 Minisink Valley and No. 2 Monticello.
“This one is really special because we were going through it as underdogs,” Robinson said. “It gives you a certain type of incentive. They figured out how to be a team. They don’t give up. They don’t stop.”
Neither did Monticello, which equally matched New Paltz’s intensity level. Gattling willed the Panthers to a fourth-quarter rally, erasing an eight-point deficit. The senior 1,000-point scorer had 14 of his game-high 28 points in the final period.
“My teammates and I grew up together,” Gattling said. “We are all brothers. That’s just how we are together. Obviously, this one didn’t go the right way for us. It’s alright. I still love my guys and I’ll take my guys over anybody on this Earth.”
Monticello’s quest for its first section title since 2002 came to an emotional finish. Coach Chris Russo’s team (16-7) was a score or stop away from its own historic victory.
“We certainly gave a winning effort,” Russo said. “They played equally as resilient and made a few shots when they needed it and so did we and they came out on top. I’m so proud of these kids.
“They gave me everything they have every single day and they loved each other and care about other and that’s all I can ask as a coach. I’m disappointed that we won’t get to practice tomorrow.”
New Paltz’s top three scorers Saturday were all juniors: Soper, Justin DeMaria (15 points) and Jeffrey Reynoso (10). The Huguenots will not be underdogs next year. But, there’s still some unfinished business left this season. New Paltz now seeks its first state playoff win.
“We have opportunities to play a few more games,” Robinson said. “It’s going to get harder. This group has a certain belief in themselves that will serve them well.”