BINGHAMTON – Cody Moffett sensed it early.
In November, his Poughkeepsie High School boys basketball team had something. The first-year head coach stressed mental toughness in preseason practices, and preached that if his Pioneers put in the effort and kept their expectations high, anything was possible.
Four months later, the Pioneers proved their coach right.
On Saturday, Poughkeepsie won the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class A championship, beating previously undefeated Pittsford Mendon, 69-59, at the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.
It marked Poughkeepsie’s first state championship since 1995, and it was the first time a Dutchess County boys basketball team captured a state crown since 1999, when Millbrook accomplished the feat competing in Class D.
“I knew this team was special at the beginning of the season,” Moffett said. “At the first open gym, we said mental toughness was going to be the biggest key and if we stayed strong together and had mental toughness, we could accomplish some great things.”
With the historic win, Poughkeepsie (25-3) will play Frederick Douglass Academy in the Class A Federation tournament at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.
In the state final against Mendon, the Pioneers staged an exciting rally to secure the win.
Trailing by four points midway through the fourth quarter, the Pioneers made their move, going on an 8-0 run to take the lead.
It began with a basket by senior guard Davontrey Thomas, who finished with 12 points. Niyal Goins then snagged a steal on the Vikings’ ensuing possession and dribbled down the court on a fast break for a layup to tie it.
Jamik Carter then grabbed a defensive rebound and drove the length of the floor for a layup to give the Pioneers a 57-55 lead, with Goins capping the run with a basket.
The Vikings eventually got within 60-57, but Tremell Reaves hit a shot while being fouled to essentially put the game away.
Carter led Poughkeepsie with 17 points. Jaquan Pearson poured in 16, while Goins added 15.
Poughkeepsie had entered the fourth quarter down 49-47, but struck back to tie the game at 51, before Michael Harrington and Daniel Cook scored back-to-back baskets to put the Vikings ahead four.
Even with time running down, the Pioneers never forgot the mentality Moffett had instilled in them.
“Coach told us to just stay composed and stay calm,” Thomas said. “There were a lot of games before this where we were down, so everybody knew just to lock in and stay together.”
The Pioneers got off to an ideal start, surging for a 12-5 lead on a 3-pointer from Carter. Poughkeepsie subsequently led 18-13 at the end of the first.
The Vikings showed some mental toughness of their own, though, as they clawed back to get within three after a basket from Cook.
Cook served as the catalyst for Mendon taking its first lead in the second frame, as the Pioneers’ front line struggled to contain him He scored five straight points including a spinning layup in the post to move the Vikings ahead 20-18.
Cook continued making stellar plays including an acrobatic assist to Jacob Shadders, but Carter answered with four quick points of his own to cut the lead to 26-25.
The Pioneers scored just one point for the remainder of the half, as the Vikings went on a 9-1 run behind Cook and Shadders to enter halftime ahead, 35-26.
Moffett and Poughkeepsie spent the entirety of the break in the locker room, thinking of adjustments that would be essential in the second half including a 2-3 zone and a full court press.
“We tried to change different looks defensively and it ended up working,” Moffett said. “We wound up rebounding and it kind of just worked out that way. Every game we come in with a game plan and a second game plan as far as adjusting.”
Sports reporter A.J. Martelli contributed to this report.
Published 12:21 AM EDT Mar 17, 2019