While the Lady Warriors have owned Troy on the court, things have been a little more even on the softball diamond. The teams split two games last year, while AP swept the regular season series this year. On Wednesday, however, a firestorm of controversy hit the school, and the timing couldn't have been worse.
The Lady Warriors were the #3 seed in Class A, and hosted Troy in the quarterfinal round, playing the #6 Flying Horses for the third time this season. Hours before the game, there were allegations of body shaming & bullying levied against varsity coach Ken Bailey by seniors Jayden Lee & Kelsey Mohl.
According to today's Albany Times-Union, Mohl & Lee were planning on quitting the Lady Warriors after a 9-1 loss to Ballston Spa two weeks ago, but were persuaded to continue, with a Senior Night game against Guilderland next on the schedule, followed by the season finale on the road against Troy. Averill Park won both games, and, being a witness at the Troy game, I didn't see any signs of issues with the Lady Warriors.
On Wednesday, assistant coach Dave Pugilese, also the men's varsity basketball coach and an assistant football coach at AP, chose not to play Mohl & Lee, according to Spectrum News, which said the seniors wanted to play as long as Bailey wasn't there. Superintendent James Franchini, hoping to avoid any and all distractions, had asked Bailey not to coach that day. Pugilese, out of loyalty to Bailey and the school, made his decision, and it was a costly one, as Troy pulled the upset, erasing a five run deficit in the seventh inning to win, 8-6. That Troy would lose the next day to South Glens Falls isn't a factor at this point.
What is, however, is Pugilese's decision to assume Mohl & Lee were, in fact, going to quit, and not play them. Perhaps this, again, was to avoid any distractions with the rest of the team, even though the two seniors were in the bleachers with their families. It begs to ask what might've been had Pugilese not taken such a hard line stance. Had Mohl & Lee played, maybe AP goes on to the semi-finals.
Per the Times-Union, the case is still being investigated, and it appears that Bailey may have coached his last game at AP, walking away in an effort to save his reputation.
So why does Pugilese get the Weasel ears? He can say he wanted to avoid distracting the rest of the team, but I'd think the horse had left the barn already in that case. Down two key players, the Lady Warriors were in a position to win the game, were it not for that fatal final inning. As a coach, you want to make sure you have your best players on the field in critical situations, and Pugilese's short-sighted decision essentially shot AP in its collective foot.
I've seen how such short-sighted decisions have come back to bite Pugilese on the court. He's 0-4 vs. Troy in men's basketball. Now, the onus is on Franchini to find Bailey's successor. Pugilese isn't it.