Was it the cold? There must be a reason why the Rye High Garnets and Rye Country Day Wildcats couldn’t seem to hit the rim…
By Mitch Silver
Was it the cold? There must be a reason why the Rye High Garnets and Rye Country Day Wildcats couldn’t seem to hit the rim — let alone the twine — in the opening minutes of the pair of games they played in the coldest week of the new year.
Against Greens Farms, a team they’d beaten 57-53 three weeks ago, the Wildcats were down 10-0 in the early going on the afternoon of January 23. The Dragons are one of the few teams that can outsize the locals under the basket, with wide-body Sunday Okeke going 6’8” and jumping jack partner Zach Baines at 6’4” grabbing every rebound in sight. Country Day’s backcourt stars, Salim Green and Vincent Conn, hit just four shots between them and the Grandview Avenue squad left the court trailing 23-9 after eight minutes.
A week later and a mile down the road, the Garnets fell behind league leaders Byram Hills January 30 on Senior Night. The all-senior starting five of Gregg Yannett, Spencer Reno, Pierce Crowley, Will Durkee, and Andrew Livingston (a point guard who jumped center on the opening tap!) fought hard but made only two baskets while regular starters Drew Abate, Charlie Nagle, George Kirby, and Mark Croughan watched from the bench. Fortunately, the Bobcats weren’t much better and they led by only 6-4 when the period ended.
Even with the regulars back after the first timeout, Rye lost ground to Byram and its massive center, Andrew Groll. The half ended with the visitors in charge, 24-13.
It must have seemed like “déjà vu all over again”, as Yogi Berra once put it, for any Rye hoops fan who watched both games. A week before, the Wildcats trailed at the half, 33-24, with only Vincent Conn’s ten points in the second stanza — on jump shots reminiscent of the Knicks’ Hall-of-Famer Dick Barnett — keeping his team afloat. Coach Chris Wirth’s charges broke through in the third quarter, though, scoring in eight minutes what it had taken them the whole first half to accomplish. With Green canning 12 of his team’s 24 points on drives and outside 3-pointers, his team trailed by only two as the fourth quarter began.
The final eight minutes were electrifying. Okeke and Baines were still pulling down the rebounds (though Country Day’s Chris Picard and Manny Chucknu gave as good as they got) and the Dragons nailed a couple of 3’s to regain the lead each time they lost it. In the end, though, Salim Green’s drives and free throws — he made five in the last three minutes of the game — sealed the 71-65 win. Green’s 32-point effort, paired with Conn’s 24, had their coach smiling in the end. “I told you we have the best backcourt in the league,” he said as he wiped the perspiration from his brow. “They proved it out there today!”
Could the Garnets’ game top the Wildcats for suspense? Not immediately. Though their matchup 2-3 zone caused the 13-2 Bobcats trouble and shooting guard Charlie Nagle managed a steal and reverse layup with 2:40 to go in the period, Rye still trailed 34-23 when Byram’s Schuyler Sinon hit a 3-point running heave at the buzzer.
But that was all she wrote for the visitors. Groll would manage a half-dozen fourth-quarter points, but Rye blanked everyone else on the floor. Meanwhile, Nagle found the range for a couple of 3’s, Livingston and Abate had one each, and the team’s 23 points in the final period would equal their outpoint for the rest of the game. The 46-40 victory was easily 8-9 Rye’s biggest win of the season, and made Senior Night a happy one for the players and students in the stands.
Coach John Aguilar summed up his feelings. “If I had to, I’d give up five wins just to coach this group of kids, that’s how terrific they are as players and people.”
Give up a win? Not one like this, Coach.