WHITE PLAINS, NY - After experiencing heartbreak last year, Mt. Vernon played this entire season with a chip in their shoulders. They lost in the Section 1 "AA" championship game last season to New Rochelle in a game that has become legendary, with Khalil Edney hitting a 60 footer at the buzzer to break the hearts of the Knights.
This season they were out for redemption, and with a big performance from senior guard Akeem Krubally on Sunday afternoon at the Westchester County Center, they got what they wanted, the championship Gold Ball, which all Section 1 teams receive when they win the title, and the "AA" crown, taking down Spring Valley, 47-39.
Mt. Vernon Head Coach Bob Cimmino said that last year's loss was tough on him, but that it was even tougher on the kids, especially those who came back as seniors this year, because in their minds, they had let down so many.
"They were very upset that they didn't send last year's seniors, their friends, home with gold, so they had something to prove this whole year," Cimmino said.
Senior guard Devonte Banner, who was a major part of last year's squad said dejection was the main feeling he had after that game, but a day after that tough loss to New Rochelle he said he put his mind to getting back to the Section 1 title game and righting what he considered a wrong.
With that intensity and desire firmly at the surface on Sunday, the Knights came out strong against a young and talented Spring Valley team. Tyger Hackett, a senior guard, hit a pair of big threes early in the 2nd to put Mt. Vernon up by 9. Krubally had 7 points in the 2nd as well as Tigers star sophomores Kai Mitchell and Rickey McGill each struggled to get going, as the Knights took a 23-16 lead into the half.
The late 2nd quarter spurt really spurred Krubally on for the rest of the game. The senior said that he just wants to do whatever the team needs of him, and today he said, that ended up being some scoring.
"I felt good, and my teammates encouraged me and put me in a place where I felt like I could make shots," Krubally said.
He had a slashing basket while getting fouled midway through the 3rd, seemingly unafraid of the bigs of Spring Valley, or of the moment, and Cimmino said it's a good thing he did step up, because with the Knights struggling to find a rhythm after the half, Krubally proved huge.
"He dribble drove amongst some of those great big guys that Spring Valley has, and put us on his back," Cimmino said with a smile.
The Tigers didn't quit, as Mitchell found a nice rhythm late in the 3rd and into the 4th, and on a couple of occasions in the final quarter Spring Valley was able to cut the deficit to 1, but each time that happened, the Knights had an answer, which was no surprise to Banner.
"We have played in a lot of close games this year," Banner said. "I think we were more prepared for a situation like we were in because of that."
Brandon Martin, another senior who felt the sting of last year's defeat, had one of the biggest plays of the game with a putback of a Banner miss for a bucket and the foul to up the Knights lead from 1 to 4 with just over 5 minutes to play, and it ended up being the last time Spring Valley got it to a one point game.
McGill struggled mightily hitting on just 1 FG in the game and was saddled with foul trouble basically from start to finish, and it was Krubally who came up with the huge clutch FT's late to seal the deal for Mt. Vernon and give them back the Gold Ball, and the Section 1 "AA" championship, taking down Spring Valley 47-39.
Krubally had a game high 19 points with 5 rebounds as well, with Banner and Hackett each adding 8 points apiece in the win, and after the game Cimmino was just beaming with pride about Krubally, who as a junior last year, was not on the team.
"He had some academic issues last year that kept him from being on the team, but he now has a 90+ average, and I'm just so happy for him to accomplish this," Cimmino said.
Krubally was MVP, and even though it was a huge accomplishment, he was still focused on an important test he has coming up after the game.
"I can focus on my regents coming up now I guess," Krubally said with a huge smile.
Junior forward Jordan Duncan led Spring Valley with 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Mitchell had 8 points and 11 rebounds as well, with McGill being shut down and held to just 3 points in the defeat.
Mt. Vernon claimed their 30th all time Section 1 championship with the win, and Cimmino said that while it's redemption for last year's tough loss, he is just happy to have back the big piece of hardware.
"Well last year was last year, and it now that's over," Cimmino explained. "The theme of this is that the Gold Ball is back where it belongs, on 100 California Road at Mt. Vernon High School."
And while Banner and the Knights will celebrate the moment, the eye is now squarely on the bigger prize the senior guard said.
"With how last year ended, this means a lot, but we aren't done, we want a state championship now, and that's what we are out to do."