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Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019: Park knocks off unbeaten O'Hara 71-57

   Leading off today: Seniors Noah Hutchins and Quentin Nnagbo combined for 45 points Wednesday as Park School defeated previously unbeaten Cardinal O'Hara 71-57 in one of the most anticipated boys basketball games of the Upstate New York season.

   The loss snapped the state's second-longest active winning streak at 21 games. O'Hara are ranked second in the state in Classes A and B, respectively.

   Hutchins, hobbled by an injury the past two weeks, scored 11 of his game-high 27 points in the first quarter. Nnagbo scored 10 of his 18 in the second half.

   Park controlled the tempo much of the way, dragging down the pace of the game and holding the Hawks far below their average of 85.1 points per game.

   "I can't think of one thing we did really well," O'Hara coach Tony Pulvirenti said. "And against Park you have to do a lot of things well. Maybe it's not a complete negative. Hopefully it's something we learn from."

   Wrestling fields set: At-large berths were announced for the state individual wrestling championships Feb. 22-23 in Albany, with Sections 2 and 5 each pulling down 23 wildcard berths.

   The Section 2 haul includes 18 spots in the Division II field. Sections 8 and 11 led the way in Division I with 13 bonus berths apiece.

   The at-large qualifiers included one 50-match winner, Kaleb Burgess of Palmyra-Macedon (Division II 120 pounds). Central Valley Academy's Hunter Shaut (145 pounds) and Mason Bush (113) were added to the Division II brackets with 49 and 48 victories, respectively.

   Top winners awarded wildcards in Division I were Casper Stewart of Batavia/Attica (99 pounds) and Mike Blando of Massapequa (132) with identical 47-3 records.

   The list of sectional champions and wildcard additions can be viewed here in PDF format.

   Record-setting performance: Union-Endicott junior Ashley Cicciarelli set a national record for high school girls during the Section 4 bowling championships on Saturday by rolling an 854 series capped off by a perfect game.

   The performance at Midway Lanes in Vestal led Union-Endicott to the sectional Class A championship.

   Cicciarelli eclipsed the 831 series, the presumed previous record, by Hilton freshman Elena Carr in December 2017 in Rochester. The U.S. High School Bowling Foundation immediately began listing Cicciarelli as the record-holder.

   The National Federation of State High School Associations does not maintain records in the sport. The United States Bowling Congress breaks its records into adult and youth categories, and none of the three series of 854 or better it lists for youths appear to have been accomplished in high school competition.

   Radical N.J. change: The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association has voted to place substantial limits on contact at high school football practices.

   The proposal reduces full-contact limits from 90 minutes per week to 15 during the season and caps total preseason full-contact drills, which had previously been unlimited, to just six hours.

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   The proposal must pass a second reading to be implemented for the 2019 season. If adopted, the reduction would be the lowest contact-time limit in the history at any level of football in the country according to NJ.com.

   Pushback from some coaches in the state was swift and harsh.

   "That's a joke," St. Joseph coach Augie Hoffmann said. "Fifteen minutes of contact per week? You have to learn how to tackle on game days. This is an intricate part of the game and I'm not saying we need to hit or tackle every day. I just think 15 minutes is a little extreme.

   "I would love to see who's been in on these decisions. How many people that have actually played and understand the game are making these decisions? Because they seem like arbitrary numbers."

   Added Bridgewater-Raritan coach Scott Bray: "We're not dealing with college-level and pro-level athletes who already understand how to tackle. You may be bringing a kid into a situation where you've limited his understanding of how to handle different situations. ... I'd hate to see us put a kid in

  
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a vulnerable position just because he hasn't played before."

   Others, however, expect negligible effect if and when the rule goes onto the books.

   "We didn't tackle guys to the ground in practice all year," Ramapo coach Drew Gibbs said. "If you're coaching correctly, you don't really have to do that, aside from a little in training camp. As a guy who just had a season 13 games long, you get beat up. The last thing you need is being tackled to the ground during the week."

   Added Piscataway coach Dan Higgins: "We like to save our best contact for Friday night lights."

   Terry O'Neil, president of Practice Like Pros, pushed for the change. Practice Like Pros encourages drills and scrimmaging in which defenders wrap up a ball carrier without taking him to the ground. The organization's presentation to state associations and coaches groups uses video from the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars to demonstrate how less-than-full-contact practice works.

   New Jersey has seen a substantial decline in participation in the sport. In 2017, 1,700 fewer players were reported playing high school football in New Jersey than the year before, a 6.8 percent decrease.

   New coach: Anthony Finochio, 36, has been promoted to head football coach at Washingtonville after two years as the team's offensive coordinator. Before that, Finochio was 40-28 in seven seasons as James I. O'Neill head coach.

   He replaces Don Clark, who coached 10 years in his second stint at Washingtonville.

   The Wizards are coming off a 3-6 season.

   "I'm very excited to get started," Finochio said. "Washingtonville is the community that I teach in and I live here. It's nice to be doing something for the community."

   Retired Clarkstown coach dies: Ed McGrath, 190-92 as the boys basketball coach at Clarkstown from 1957-76, has died at the age of 94.

   McGrath was inducted into the Clarkstown North, Rockland County and University of Massachusetts halls of fame.

   Long-range specialist: Homer senior girls basketball player Shawnessy Earle has set the school record with 49 3-point baskets this season. That numbed is modest, but what makes the accomplishment noteworthy is that Earle hasn't made any buckets from inside the arc this winter. Her only other point came on a single free throw.

   "It's kind of been a joke this season," Earle said.

   Coach C.J. Kudla said that the quirky stat line went largely unnoticed until one of his assistants pointed it out several weeks ago.

   "She's a phenomenal 3-point shooter," he said. "She's been getting better all season long."


  
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