The spot Haden Abbott shoveled time and time again to perfect a 3-pointer from the corner which would pay off in the state championship game.
By JOHN ANDERSON
Haden Abbott was the first player to walk over to the sidelines and collapse on the home team chairs in the Cool Insuring Arena after Avoca-Prattsburgh defeated Chapel Hill Christian to win the New York State basketball state championship.
He was exhausted, but he would have to get up in a few minutes to accept his MVP award for the state final four.
The exhaustion wasn’t just from the game. It was 365 days of work that led up to his exhaustion.
It started with shoveling to shoot baskets outside in the snow.
It continued walking through the snow to the Avoca gym on Sunday’s to throw 40 to 60 pitches on his only day off.
Most people will want to shovel the snow off a driveway that looks like the lane on a basketball court. Remove the 15 feet from the foul line to the hoop and a little room on the sides and you are done.
He shoveled snow down his long driveway to South Main Street until he could see the yellow glow of the Dollar General sign.
Then he started working on those long 3-pointers from the corner, 19 feet, 20 feet, 21 feet. After all, you never know how much room you are going to have in the corner from gym-to-gym and from school-to-school and even arena-to-arena.
There were two reasons Haden was not going to get cheated his senior year:
1) The taste of a loss in baseball in the sectional finals.
2) The pressure of replacing the loss of a key starter from the state championship basketball team his junior year and repeating as state champions.
On March 19, 2022, Abbott had the ball in his hands as the clock ticked to zero. He slammed the ball off the court to touch off the celebration. He was a junior and Avoca-Prattsburgh had just won the state title over Heuvelton, 70-58.
During that game, senior Caleb Johnson wore #10 and hit the big 3-pointers from the corner early to give A-P a much-needed early lead against a strong Heuvelton team that would claw back, but couldn’t overcome the deficit.
After the fire truck rides and banquets, Abbott got to work. And he claimed the #10 jersey.
The lonely days shooting outside preparing for the season happened often.
However, when his older brother, Blake was home, things changed. The shots from the end of the driveway simulating a 3-pointer from the corner were now contested.
“When my brother was at the house — he was always taller than me — I had to find a way to make those shots and score the basketball,” Haden said. “He didn’t let up on me. He was always out there, he was always blocking my shots. I have to credit him, he really helped me to get where I am now.”
The reps continued inside and outside.
“It was a lot of reps. Winter, summer, in the gym, getting shots up and getting confidence,” he said. “Confidence is the key with basketball.”
At age 5, Haden started learning to dribble a basketball. By age 6 he was pretty good. A few years later, he met a couple kids from neighboring Prattsburgh who weren’t bad, either. Macoy Putnam and Sawyer Devoe. Two key members of the state championship basketball team who made first-team all-state.
“I played with Coy and Sawyer when we were young,” Haden said. “I knew we were good, but you didn’t realize how good we could be.”
As the repeat state title season started, Devoe went down with an injury to his wrist. Haden suddenly had to score. A lot. Putnam would find him. A few losses turned into wins. Devoe returned and teams had no idea who to stop.
By the time the state finals rolled around, it was clear, if Chapel Field didn’t stop Haden Abbott, this game might get out of hand.
With Chapel Field trying one last-ditch effort to come back, Abbott went high in the air for a 3-pointer from the corner. The lights of the Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls were brighter than the lone street light on Main Street or the Dollar General sign glow. But the hand of the defender went up as Haden went up.
Haden thought of one thing, “Not this time, Blake!” He went higher than he has ever elevated and released. As he came down, he stumbled into the bench into the familiar arms of Dan Stilson.
Game. Set. Match.
Blake smiled from the stands. The crowd erupted. Chapel Field called a time out. There was nothing to say. This one was over.
“Haden started hitting shots and he didn’t miss, so we did everything we could to get the ball to the hot hand and he had the hot hand,” said Putnam, the junior point guard who finished with the 12 assists the stressed statisticians could figure out during the game.
With the score 60-36 after three periods, state officials were scrambling on press row to check out the record books. Abbott was 6-of-13 from 3-point range, he was 12-of-25 shooting with 32 points (to go with 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks).
But there was no need to rush. Coach Brian Putnam let his seniors play a few minutes in the fourth and let the other players on the team get shots and points in a state final game.
Haden Abbott finished the game third all-time for 3-pointers in a final and in the top 20 all-time scoring in a title game.
And Avoca-Prattsburgh won, 70-48.
Macoy Putnam loved being the floor general every second of it.
“We play our game, see what is working for us and find the hot hand,” Macoy said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s me, Sawyer, Jamel (Crowder), Haden or Evan (Campbell). It doesn’t matter who it is. Whoever is hot, we get them the ball and let them give us the best chance of winning.”
Coach Putnam enjoyed coaching a player he never had to worry about when he shot. He never said “no,” when the ball went up.
“Once you find the hot hand you do anything you can do to make good team shots,” Coach Putnam said. “Haden doesn’t take bad shots, they are still within the offense and shots for the team and the team works hard to get the hot hand the basketball.”
Abbott was awarded the 2023 New York State Finals Tournament MVP plaque. It was heavy. But he felt embarrassed holding it.
“This is a tournament MVP plaque, but I credit my teammate for that,” Abbott said under the bleachers of the hockey arena, turned to the biggest stage in the state for basketball for one weekend a year. “It felt good to get in that corner and knock down those shots.”
In December of 2021, Haden Abbott showed up to baseball intramurals and waited. There were four pitchers being looked at to be the top four in the rotation.
Haden was No. 5.
The soft-throwing righty with his herky-jerky motion just didn’t look as good as the other pitchers. Plus, they all had varsity experience.
But he did have a good slider. Coach Dennie Miles suggested throwing his fastball the same way. The lanky junior suddenly looked smooth. There was a loud “pop” in the gym. Catcher Sam Patterson looked down in his glove then looked up, almost to say “who threw that?”
As the season went on, the pitchers ahead of him on the depth chart went 7-5. Haden went 7-1.
When sectionals started, he was the clear No. 1. However, he was needed to close out a victory in the semifinals against Naples. He had all of his pitches a few days later in the finals against Fillmore, but he wasn’t 100 percent. One pitch, a single pitch he wanted back when it left his fingers was a 3-run home run in a 4-3 loss.
Abbott finished his junior year 7-2 with a 1.47 ERA, a team-high 57 innings and 71 strikeouts with only 14 walks.
He was one-pitch good enough to win a title his senior year. But he worked like he was entering camp his senior year as the No. 5 starter once again. He had something to prove.
And it wasn’t just in sports. He was climbing the ranks with his academic average, too.
When the A-P basketball team would get back late on a Saturday from a game, he was in the gym throwing and hitting the next morning.
“Haden was always finding room to work out even when things were not convenient … he made an effort,” said Miles. “If intramurals were at 11 a.m. and he had an obligation, he would ask to come in at 9 a.m. so he would not miss.
“It’s not what people do when people are watching, it’s important what you do when people are not watching,” Miles continued. “He didn’t need to be motivated by his coaches, he was self-motivated, that was his goal.”
It was a special senior year. A lot of parents miss games because they work. Haden’s parents worked, too. But that meant he nodded and smiled at Steve and Cyndie Abbott when he got on the school bus! Steve was the driver on the team trip to Virginia. Haden was the driving force on the mound to secure a huge win during the trip.
Everything was in place for Haden to pitch in the finals, once again against Fillmore.
But Naples, for the second year, had other ideas, once again in the semifinals. The Big Green Machine took the lead and Abbott’s senior year looked like it was coming to an end. The plan to throw a few innings turned into close to seven. A-P won in the bottom of the seventh.
Miles knew Abbott was going to be tired in the Section V finals. So instead of mentally preparing to throw 5-to-7 innings, he wanted Abbott to give his best effort for two innings, leave it all on the mound, and they could turn it over to fellow senior Jamel Crowder to do the same.
In the 1979 movie “Breaking Away” starring Dennis Quaid, a group of local kids tried to beat the fraternity teams at Indiana University in a bike race relay called the Little 500. You had four people on a team who took turns riding until they were too tired. The race had a rule, if you taped your feet to the pedals, that meant you were not allowed to come off the bike and had to finish the race.
In the a section V finals, things were going to plan. A-P had a 2-1 lead after two innings. Miles had to make a decision. Abbott sprinted out to the mound for the third. He was taping his feet to the mound.
He threw a scoreless third. He threw a scoreless fourth. With the Titans up 9-1 and the sun beating down on a hot Saturday, it was time to take him out.
Crowder was ready. The radar gun showed 81 miles per hour, the hardest Crowder had pitched all year. He left his warm ups in the bullpen at Hornell because he was on deck. He took a few swings and got into the batter’s box. The pitch came in and hit Crowder in his pitching hand. He doubled over in pain and went to first.
He was checked by the on-site trainer who checked his fingers, wrist and arm. He threw. Discomfort, but no pain. He started throwing fastballs and Fillmore feasts on fastballs. With two strikes, he threw a curve. The hand did not like it and suddenly, it looked like a golf ball bubble on his hand. His day was done pitching and hitting.
Meanwhile, that sun against a high sky with no cloud coverage caused players on both teams to mis-play fly balls. Not centerfielder Sawyer Devoe, a senior, who was having the game of his life, going 3-for-3 with a triple, double, 2 RBI’s, two runs all in the first four innings.
But sliding into second, Devoe re-injured that wrist from basketball and his day was over, too. Haden wanted the ball again. With players who have never played a varsity game at third base or shortstop.
The lead dwindled to 9-5. Haden was needed at shortstop. His cousin, junior Chris Abbott, who could write the same story about rising up the ranks of a pitching chart, took the mound. When the season ended, Chris had a 0.81 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 22 innings. He was used all season in relief for a save situation, but with the team winning 20 games, he never saw a lot of true save situations.
Fillmore had the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh. Chris Abbott delivered and the ball went toward centerfield where Sawyer Devoe would have been playing in the perfect spot, sprint in and make the catch. Instead, Sawyer was icing his hand in the dugout.
As runners raced around the bases in a 9-5 game, Haden Abbott started racing out toward center from his shortstop position. Running, sweat burning his eyes and looking into the bright sun, he made an over-the-shoulder catch with his back to the field. Game over.
Haden improved his stats to 9-1 with the win and had 52 innings with 80 strikeouts. He had two more pieces of hardware, the Section V regular season MVP for Class D and the Section V final MVP.
“That catch was as tough as a catch you have to make because of the sky and the sun,” Miles said. “But he did it, just like he did everything else. His junior year he lost to Fillmore in the finals. During the regular season, he lost to Fillmore pitching in relief.
“He had pitched the whole game in the semi-finals on Wednesday. We were just hoping to get two strong innings out of him and turn it over to the relievers, Jamel and Chris, but he wanted to prove to everybody he didn’t need the relief,” Miles continued. “He willed himself to win that game as a pitcher. He was not going to come out. He was going to put us on his back as a No. 1 pitcher would do.”
Miles then rattles off some stats.
“He also had a .459 batting average, 8 doubles, 18 RBI’s, 38 stolen bases, which is a lot,” Miles said. “He had a 9-1 record and 2.15 ERA against the best teams on our schedule. He led the A-P soccer team with 15 goals, the most in Steuben County and he averaged 21.4 points a game in basketball, the most in Steuben County, His nine wins were the most in baseball.
On Friday night, Abbott also finished as the Avoca Central School Salutatorian. The school honored him with 2023 Male Athlete of the Year and he was honored with the Ivan Cranmer Memorial Scholarship, his first of many scholarships before graduation night.
Miles, who has 785 victories as a varsity baseball coach, the most in Section V history, the most of any active coach and only a handful of wins away from first all-time in the state. He has won 14 Section V titles, and said Haden joins an elite club.
“I’ve been coaching a long time and nobody I have coached has worked any harder or was more dedicated than him,” Miles said. It’s kind of like, he’s so committed to trying to get better and he’s willing to go the extra yard … I’ll leave you with this: A lot of kids find reasons not to workout. Haden finds ways to make it work out.”