Leaders of the pack: Packer’s Pelicans win private-school Class-C crown

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Blake Martin’s poor shooting in the league playoffs didn’t carry over into the state tournament.

The Packer Collegiate standout got off to a good start and led his top-seeded team to a convincing 70–44 victory over Staten Island Academy in the private school Class-C state title game at Fieldston on Feb. 28. The junior forward single-handedly out-scored Staten Island Academy 12–10 in the first quarter, hitting three after three.

“In our league tournament, he shot really poorly, and I think he just had the eye of the tiger today,” said Packer coach George Boutis. “When he hit his first few shots, I could tell that he’s on.”

Martin finished the game with six threes — three of them coming in the first quarter — and a game-high 28 points. Martin’s treys drew No. 2 Staten Island Academy’s defense to the perimeter, creating plenty of easy opportunities at the rim for his teammates.

“I want to get everyone in the game,” Martin said. “I don’t like all the attention, even though I know I can score. I like to give.”

Senior forward Zach Pine was one major beneficiary of Martin’s defense-baiting. Pine finished the game with 15 points, and when he wasn’t receiving feeds from Martin, he was making hustle plays to energize both his teammates and the crowd.

“We got the ball moving and Blake [Martin] hit his shots,” Pine said. “He’s an incredible player. It just made it so much easier for us and helped us loosen up. It was fantastic.”

The Pelicans’ offensive success created a confidence boost that translated into a better defensive effort as the game went on — largely thanks to coach Boutis who, despite the team’s lead, never stopped preaching intensity.

“That’s kind of been our mantra this year,” Martin said. “Keeping it intense and doing everything for 32 minutes. Just continuously keeping the pressure on, because we are a fighting team.”

Packer’s defensive efforts were evident after every quarter — it held the Tigers to just 10 points in each of the first three frames. Staten Island Academy guard Jordan Caruso struggled to get good looks at the rim, finishing with a team-high 12 points.

“We just made sure that we don’t step off the gas,” Pine said. “In the past, we’ve played against teams and gotten up on a lead, they’ve pressured us and gotten themselves back in the game. We weren’t going to stop until the final buzzer sounded.”

Collegiate 66, Poly Prep 31: Top-seeded Poly Prep continues to wait for a state title as star player Najee Taylor wasn’t his usual self while trying to play through a sprained ankle. The Bay Ridge school lost handily on Feb. 28. Poly Prep never got it going, trailing 20–2 after a quarter. Poly, which lost regular-season meetings with the Dutchman, has not won since 2004.

“Taylor’s absence really effects the way we play on offense,” said Poly Prep coach Ben Kettering. “We like to go through both of our post players and they work really well off of one another. It’s a different kind of game.”

Taylor did start and attempted to play. However, after a tough first half, coach Kettering benched him to allow him to rest his ankle. Poly Prep’s lack of offense buried the team’s chances of winning with Jason Cam putting on a dominant performance for No. 2 Collegiate.

“When things are going against you like that, we had to take it a possession at a time,” Kettering said. “They played an outstanding game. Jason Cam was incredible, and it was tough to stop him.”

Cam finished with 22 points, out-scoring Poly Prep for most of the first half. Griffin Walsh finished with eight points for Poly Prep.

“Our guys battled — that’s what I was proud of,” Kettering said. “We battled for four quarters, when things weren’t going our way on either side of the ball. They continued to play hard. It was tough to beat Collegiate.”

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