By Mike Zummo
When Chris Baccaro knocked down a 3-point basket to pull the Wallkill boys’ basketball team to within six points, it looked as though the Panthers may be able to make a comeback.
But the fourth-seeded Beacon Bulldogs followed with a six-point run to end the fifth-seeded Panthers’ comeback in a 56-44 win in the Section 9 Class A quarterfinals on February 27 at Beacon High School.
“This was a tough group of guys that we had this year,” Wallkill coach Hunter Andrews said. “They’re great competitors, tough kids and really successful. We got off to a slow start tonight and clawed our way back to six there in the fourth quarter. It was just a little too much.”
Baccaro led the Panthers with a game-high 20 points, which included four 3-pointers, three of which came in the third quarter. Sean Perrin added 11 points, while playing most of the second half with four personal fouls.
The Panthers entered the fourth quarter trailing the Bulldogs, 38-24, actually a two-point improvement on their halftime deficit, but the Panthers came out strong in the fourth quarter with a steal and basket by Baccaro.
Beacon’s Joseph Battle, who tied Baccaro with a game-high 20 points, scored four straight points before Perrin knocked down a 3 to pull the Panthers to within 13 points. After a basket from Darien Gillins, the Panthers went on a 7-0 run to close the gap to 44-36.
After Adrian Beato knocked down one of two free throws, Baccaro’s second 3-pointer of the half closed the gap to 45-39 with 3:12.
“Our defense really improved there in the second half,” Andrews said. “We threw a couple of different things at them, and we were able to get stops. That’s what it’s about. Chris and Sean started to make some plays to get to the basket, which we weren’t able to do in the first half.”
But the Bulldogs quickly silenced any ideas of a Panther comeback with a 6-0 run to open a 51-39 lead. Even though Baccaro’s fourth 3 of the game brought Wallkill to within nine points with 1:04 left in the game, soon after he left the game with an ankle injury and did not return.
The Panthers’ comeback came after an impassioned plea from Andrews between the third and fourth quarters.
“They competed,” Andrews said. “We picked up full court. We’ve been a really strong defensive team all season. I was just trying to remind them of that because we were sluggish. We just needed to get off to a better start.”
The Panthers finished the season with 12 wins, finishing third in the in the Mid Hudson Athletic League Division I behind Our Lady of Lourdes and Roosevelt, entering the tournament as the fourth seed after losing their top scorer, Mat Shea, to graduation last year.
The Panthers will graduate six seniors: Baccaro, Nicholas Dilemme, Perrin, Mason Ondreyko, Colin McCartney and Gabe Crespi.
“They have four years of really successful years and it’s a successful career,” Andrews said. “The seniors, last year, were part of a 20-2 team (last year) and this year winning 12 games when I don’t think many people thought we would, considering what we lost. They’re a special group in my heart with their competitive nature.”