PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – The Peekskill High School girls basketball team lost to Walkill on Tuesday on a last-second buzzer-beater. But head coach Rodney Headley Jr. said he and his team are far from heartbroken.
After trailing Willkill by as many as 23 points in the third quarter in the girls class A state regional semifinals at Mount Saint Mary College, the Red Devils mounted a comeback only to lose when a Walkill player hit a last second-shot to put the Panthers ahead, 64-62. The shot ended a magical season for the Red Devils, who started at 1-7 but fought back to make the playoffs and become the first 11th-seeded team to win the Section 1 Class A championship.
After the season ended, Headley said he believes his team will be better in the long run.
“I think it was one of the better things that could have happened to a young team,” Headley said, adding that every one of his players is coming back next season. “When we were 1-7, people were thinking of quitting and there was a lot of turmoil. But then we went on our run and it felt like magic.”
Headley said he will always remember this year’s team as a record-setter.
“We were the first 11th-seed to be in a championship game, and we won it,” he said. “We had to play a 19-1 team (Tuesday), and we were major underdogs. We were down the whole game, but no one gave up.”
Many tears were shed in the locker room at halftime, Headley said, but the fight he saw afterward gave him confidence for next year.
“We had never experienced being down that much in a game of that magnitude,” he said. “And then we exploded in the second half. We got beat by a buzzer-beater and that happens to all of the best teams. It happened to them at a good time because every one of them will be back next year and have that extra motivation to carry it in front of them the whole way.”
The team put on one of the best displays he has ever seen, Peekskill Athletic Director Lou Panzanaro said.
“It certainly didn’t look like it was going to go that way at the beginning of the season,” Panzanaro said. “But they kept working and getting closer together, and it was really a great thing to see them click through that tournament.”
The team evoked memories of the state championship team of a few years ago, he said, and next year’s team could be even better.
“There is a huge mixture of underclassmen who have really been gelling together, and I think it looks really great for at least the next year or two,” Panzanaro said. “We all had a lot of mixed feelings after Tuesday’s game with such a tough way to lose. But they fought for every minute and to see them fight as hard as they did, they really gave it everything they had and we’re all very proud of them.”