By Sean Lynch
NEW PALTZ — It only took 49 seconds for New Paltz senior guard Axel Rodriguez to score the three points he needed to get to 1,000 career points.
After he hit the three-pointer to eclipse the milestone, he hugged his teammates, smiled for pictures and mouthed two words.
New Paltz defeated Saugerties 57-55 in a MHAL (Mid Hudson Athletic League) overtime thriller. Rodriguez led the Huguenots (11-3) with 29 points.
When he learned he had scored 29 points, he was disappointed that he didn’t score one more, but quickly turned his attention to the bigger picture.
“I want to win the Section 9 title one last time,” he said. “Beating Saugerties in that triple OT game last season was the best feeling in the world. I want to do that again, and I think we will be able to do that again.
Rodriguez made five three-pointers and made both go-ahead free throws with 1.7 seconds left in overtime.
Axel Rodriguez’s 1,000th career point
“Axel was amazing tonight,” said New Paltz head coach Stuart Robinson. “He hit shots when we needed them the most and was a huge part in tonight’s win.”
After trailing 15-11 following the first quarter, the Huguenots went on a 12-0 run in the first 5:28 of the second quarter. They never trailed again until the first minute of overtime. The Sawyers (5-11) took a 47-45 lead on two free throws from freshman star Dior Johnson with 3:07 left.
It was back-and-forth from there. Rodriguez and Johnson exchanged points until New Paltz junior center Patrick Murphy hit a go-ahead three-pointer with 1:46 left.
Down 55-54 with 9.2 seconds left, Murphy fouled Johnson on a layup attempt. He missed the first and made the second, and the game was tied again.
After two timeouts, Rodriguez drove the length of the floor and drew a foul. He made both free throws with 1.7 seconds left. After the free throws, the 6-foot-7 Murphy jumped in front of the inbounder and caught the attempted full-court heave to secure the win.
The Huguenots were in the same situation in the Section 9 Class A final last season. They were defending a Saugerties inbounds pass and Murphy wasn’t guarding the inbounder.
“We had him down the floor instead of towering over the inbounder and Saugerties ended up scoring on us,” added Robinson. “That sort of thing doesn’t go away any time soon and he was really upset about it. So when we had the same scenario tonight, he guarded the inbounder and helped us win this game.”
Murphy finished with 10 points & 12 rebounds, his fourth double-double this season.
Dior Johnson led the Sawyers in scoring with 30 points (10/30 from the field, 7/14 from the free throw line), and 10 rebounds.
Over the last two seasons, both teams have played each other five times with New Paltz winning four of them. All games have been decided by five points or less.
January 5th, 2018: New Paltz 74, Saugerties 69
February 2nd, 2018: Saugerties 74, New Paltz 69
March 5th, 2018 (Section 9 Class A Championship): New Paltz 78, Saugerties 77 3OT
January 4th, 2019: New Paltz 62, Saugerties 57
February 1st, 2019: New Paltz 57, Saugerties 55 OT
“There’s just something about when we play Saugerties,” added Robinson. “They always rise to the occasion against us and give us one heck of a game. They make it a battle. They’re not intimidated by us, and they don’t back down — it’s always a challenge.”
Tonight’s game was no different. A gritty, fast-paced challenge that left fans from both teams on the edge of their seats. If Saugerties and New Paltz meet in the Class A playoffs this season, I’ll sure as hell be there, and anyone who loves Section 9 basketball should be too.
It’ll be worth the admission price — I guarantee it.