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Pioneer Boys Win Sectional Quarterfinal, Head To County Center

By Sean McGee
Special to HVSR

POUGHKEEPSIE – Taking care of business.

Survive and advance.

Whatever cliché you want to use, the bottom line is this – the defending state champs are still alive and moving on.

Fourth-seeded Poughkeepsie High School escaped an early postseason exit on Wednesday night, beating No. 5 Lakeland, 65-56, in the Section 1, Class A quarterfinals.

The Pioneers hit some clutch free throws down the stretch after the Hornets pulled within three with 1:21 remaining.

Poughkeepsie will play No. 1 seed Tappan Zee at the Westchester County Center Wednesday at 8:15 p.m. in the semifinal game. It will be a rematch of last year’s sectional final. The Pioneers, who lost to Tappan Zee earlier in the season, are more than ready for another match-up.

“We are expecting Tappan Zee,” said Poughkeepsie guard Ali Harrell. “It’s a big game, everybody is ready, its revenge. We’re coming hungrier than ever.”

Before the Pioneers could get to the Dutchmen they had to go through the Hornets. Lakeland came ready to play, but simply didn’t have enough firepower to stay with Poughkeepsie for the whole game.

“These guys did everything we asked them to do,” said Lakeland head coach Steve Fallo. “They couldn’t have played a better game other than winning the game. Somebody’s got to win, somebody’s got to lose, give credit to Poughkeepsie. They made a lot of free throws at the end of the game.”

The game was never dull as both teams went up and down the court getting shots up at the rim lighting quick. As soon as one team scored, the other was off to the races.

“We’re not a slow-down team and obviously they like to run too,” the Lakeland head coach said. They are a little more athletic, but we felt that we can score with them.”

The pace of the game allowed the Hornets to keep the score close, but the real reason was because of one player, Augie Karaqi. He single-handedly kept Lakeland in the game, hitting key bucket after key bucket en route to a 29-point performance, including 13 in the fourth quarter. Jack Kruse would be the only other Hornet in double figures with 13 points.

Even with the Hornets giving the Pioneers a hectic back and forth game, there was never any doubt for Poughkeepsie.

“We’ve been here before, we’ve played in tough games like this,” said Harrell. “My coach just told us to stay focused. We’re used to this; we’re built for this.”

The energy in the Poughkeepsie home court was electric. The bleachers were packed with fans screaming in excitement the entire game.

“I see the whole city coming out,” Harrell said. “It’s just a whole lot of support behind Poughkeepsie. We won a state championship, and everyone is eager to see how strong we can come back. Everybody didn’t think we could do it, but we are showing that we are here now.”

Poughkeepsie guard Shaun Johnson was a handful for the Hornets as he dropped 20 points. His teammate Harrel scored 14 points, while Revelation Garriga added 12 points. The scoring triplet was too much to contain for Lakeland.

Though scoring was not an issue for the Pioneers, their head coach believes their defense can improve for the next game against Tappan Zee.

“We got to get a little bit better defensively. We weren’t thrilled with our effort defensively, so we have to improve that in this next step,” said Poughkeepsie head coach Cody Moffett. “Hopefully We can put together something better defensively and have that momentum carry into our next game.”

For the Pioneers there is one common goal and that is to be back-to-back champions, and they are ready for the challenge.

“A lot of people doubted us; we just kept coming in the gym and working hard every day,” Johnson said. “We know what we want to do and go back for.”

Please enjoy these great photos by Todd McDonough.

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