By MIKE SMITH
Last week, the Eastchester Eagles took to the County Center in search of their first section title in 56 years. Unfortunately for Eagles fans, Eastchester fell short in its title bid, losing to Walter Panas in the Class A finals 64-53.
Eastchester’s championship week started off on a strong note as the team outlasted a tough Harrison squad in the semifinals, downing the Huskies 51-49 in a hard-fought contest.
Eastchester’s vaunted up-tempo offense helped the Eagles establish a nine-point first half lead against the Huskies on Feb. 26, but Harrison opened the second half playing stingier defense, keeping Eastchester’s shooters at bay as they cut the lead to two points with time running out.
“We decided to come out in a straight man-to-man,” Harrison coach Gary Chiarella said. “You have to play up on these guys otherwise they’re going to come out shooting and we did just that.”
Harrison’s defense helped limit Eagles’ star Jack Daly to just two buckets from the field, but the senior torched the Huskies with his ability to draw contact and get to the line. Both Daly and teammate Nick Campana finished with 14 points on the day and Daly contributed 9 rebounds and 7 assists.
“The tough part is he’s so crafty, he’s a veteran,” Chiarella said. “That’s how he was able to get to the line so much.”
The Eagles would not be so fortunate two days later against Panas, as foul trouble plagued the Eagles from the start, forcing the press-happy top-seed from implementing the high-energy defense for which they have been known in the past two seasons.
Panas opened up a nine-point lead in the first half, but the Eagles were able to chip away in the third quarter, closing the game to a 39-38 contest thanks to some hot outside shooting from sophomore guard Benny DiMirco, but a subsequent 10-point Panas run all but sealed the deal as the Panthers took home their first gold ball since 1997.
Despite the championship game loss, Eastchester finished the season with a stellar record of 19-3. Eastchester will graduate eight players from the section finalist squad, including Daly, forward Mike Milo, Nick Campana and Mike Marsico.
The team will return a number of key contributors though as DiMirco and forward Andrew Schultz will look to lead the Eagles in the 2014-15 season.
Eastchester head coach Fred DiCarlo could not be reached for comment.