Saturday, February 6, 2010

"Hoosiers" on the Hudson

After getting home early yesterday for a brief rest due to my cold, I hopped into the CRV and made the trek up to Poughkeepsie, NY. It's a trip that I have made many times before. That's because my sister in law Stephanie lives up in nearby Wappinger Falls with her husband Joe Ruggiero. Joe is the former long time Supervisor of Wappinger Falls who is now the Assistant Comptroller for the State of New York.

The Trek to Poughkeepsie is simple though fraught with traffic. Either take the Cross Island to the Whitestone or the Throgs Neck, then pick up the Hutch which turns into I 684. Then 84 West to Route 9 up to Poughkeepsie. Now last night, the traffic was pretty bad on I684. Perhaps everyone was heading up north to avoid the mid Atlantic storm that was affecting DC, Philly and parts of New Jersey. The traffic eased up once traveling on I84 West. But then I got off at that familiar exit, 13N, Route 9 towards Poughkeepsie.

Route 9 is one of those now pseudo highways that has turned into a giant runway for shopping malls. Lots of shopping malls. If you are ever hungry on Route 9, there is never a problem. There's a Friday's or an Applebee's or even a Red Robin seemingly everywhere on Route 9. But alas with malls, there is traffic. Lots and lots of traffic. So thanks to the traffic on I684 and now hitting every traffic light on Route 9, what started out as an ETA on my GPS of 6:30 was now approaching 7:15.

First, it was to pick up Tieff at the Poughkeepsie train station. Well, actually, to pick up Tieff on the side of the road off Poughkeepsie station. Ah the uses of modern cell phones. Then some wacky directions through side streets via my Garmin GPS and we got back on Route 9 right before the turnoff into Marist. Once there, we basically had to drive to the end of campus as we tried to keep track of where we were (the word "track" will come into play for a funny moment at the end of this article). We parked in a "shuttle bus stop" that would take us to the arena, we noticed no shuttle buses. Thus another "trek" to the McCann Center on the campus of Marist College. But being the two idiots we are, we amused ourselves along way by loudly humming the Sanford and Son theme song because we were seeing the Red Foxes play. You have to know your 70's TV sitcoms to understand this line - "Elizabeth, I'm comin!"

I have actually driven by Marist several times while up in Wappinger Falls as stated to see my sister in law, who is one of the funniest people I know. Stephanie went to school up in Vassar and met her husband Joe while being part of the Young Democrats at Vassar. Stephanie has a bubbly warm often silly personality and my older son Matthew reminds me a lot of Stephanie. Here they are pictured at the Trevor Zoo which is not too far from Poughkeepsie.

Marist College is right along the eastern shore of the Hudson River and during the day time, driving by the college with the river behind it, the college campus is a very pretty site. Unfortunately we really didn't get a good view of that on a pitch black evening as we walked seemingly across the entire 180 acres of campus. Tieff and I weren't too enamored of the campus buildings, but we did like how the campus was laid out.

So we got our exercise in, made it to the McCann Center, got our tickets from will call and went into the arena right in time for the national anthem. As soon as we walked in, I thought I had been transported to Indiana and was on the set of "Hoosiers". The McCann Center, albeit somewhat larger than a high school, seats 3,000 and features bleacher seating and wood paneling. Lots of wood paneling. All that was missing was Jimmy Chitwood.

It was "Pack the House" night at the McCann Center. And "pack" was an excellent word to describe the place, as Tieff, me and 2998 of our closest friends filled the sold out gym. We literally had to shoehorn ourselves into our seats. The place was loud and intimidating, a definite home court advantage for the Red Foxes.

Coming into the game, both teams were tied for first place in the MAAC at 9-1. Tony Bozzella's Lady Gaels started the season similar to the Northeastern men's team. The team played a tough road schedule and at one point was 4-8 on the season, including losing their first MAAC conference game. Then Iona proceeded to win its next nine games, the longest winning streak in the history of the women's program, to move to 13-8 on the season. Meanwhile Brian Giorgis' Marist team had come into the game off their first conference loss of the season vs. Niagara. Giorgis' team has won the last four MAAC championships, twice beating Iona in the final.

The game started with Marist's Erica Allenbach hitting a three pointer, which was a harbinger of the Red Foxes's first half. However the Lady Gaels came back with seven straight points to go up 7-3 as two layups by Suzi Fregosi and Anna McLean sandwiched an Anda Ivkovic three. Marist would score the next nine points to go up 12-7 as Kristine Best, a spunky player built like a fire hydrant, scored five of the nine points. Iona would score five of the next seven points to cut the lead to 14-12.

Then came the critical momentum swing play of the game. With the score still 14-12 with 10:43 left, Iona's Marissa Flagg made a nice steal off a Marist pass and drove the length of the court for what appeared to be the game tying layup. But she slowed up and missed the uncontested layup. Marist got the rebound and Rachele Fitz, Marist's best player nailed a three. It was as if Iona was hit by a punch to the gut. The five point turnaround was part of an 11-0 Marist run that would put the Red Foxes up 25-12 with 7:53 left.

The lead would swell to fifteen, 36-21 before Iona cut the lead to 39-26 at the half. In the first half, Marist would shoot 50 percent from beyond the arc (8 of 16) and would have as many threes, eight, as Iona had baskets overall in the first half. Iona seemed to be rushing their shots in the first half and only shot 27 percent from the field in the first half. Marist forced 13 Iona turnovers while they only committed five themselves.

But the Lady Gaels would not quit in the second half. Though Marist took its biggest lead at 48-32 off a Rachele Fitz three point play with 12:14 left, Iona would chip away. Ivkovic would lead the Lady Gaels on a 12-3 run to cut the margin to 51-44 with 8:02 left. But Iona would get no closer, as they had no answer for Fitz. Fitz scored 17 second half points and 23 on the game to lead all scorers as Marist would win Pack the House Night 68-58. Marist is now in sole possession of first in the MAAC at 10-1. Iona is now in second place at 9-2 but still maintains a three game lead over Manhattan for the second bye spot in the MAAC Tournament.

Next to Fitz, Ivkovic was the best player on the court. She led the Gaels with 17 points and 8 rebounds. The Gaels' leading scorer, Thazina Cook had an off shooting night going 3 of 15 from the field for 9 points, but she did grab 15 rebounds as Iona dominated the glass 51-36. However, the Lady Gaels couldn't put the biscuit in the basket, shooting 30 percent on the game. The Lady Gaels showed though they can hang in with the four time defending MAAC champs. The return game at Iona is Friday night, February 26 at 7:30 PM. Chances are Tieff and I will be there too.

Tieff and I took the long trek back to our car to head to dinner, then back home to New York. As we walked, I asked him if we were headed in the right direction. Tieff replied "Yeah, I think we are on the right track". Just then a train whistle blew loud in the distance. I made a comment about how ironic was that and we laughed. Another trip, another memory for sure.

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