Ryan Lopp slices between two defenders.
Rye High Boys’ Basketball
Garnets’ Defense Stars in Nyack Playoff Win, 53-30
By Mitch Silver
With NCAA March Madness just weeks away, it’s worth keeping in mind that 40% of all the twelfth-seeded teams in that tournament have upset the 5-seeds in the last decade. In high school basketball, the upsets are probably even more frequent. Which is probably why Head Coach John Aguilar and his Rye High crew—seeded 5th in the Class A playoffs—were leery of playing host to lightly-regarded # 12 Nyack.
They were right to be concerned. At the end of a ragged first quarter of play, the Indians had made all five of their free throws and the host Garnets were down 9-8. The second period was much like the first: The home team pressed after a made basket (of which there were only a few) and dared Nyack—with no starter taller than 6’2”—to shoot (and usually miss) from the outside.
The Garnets, though, began to warm up. They nailed four three-pointers, three of them coming from guys off the bench: Senior guard Jack Neave and juniors Rafe Velasquez and Max Rosenstadt scored while starter Quinn Kelley rode the pine with foul trouble. Still, Nyack was only down four, 22-18, as the teams left the floor at the half. Was Coach Aguilar worried?
“Not really. Our defense was as good as I’ve seen it all season. If we can hold teams to nine points a quarter, I know we’ll have a scoring run in us sometime.”
As it turned out, the first half would be the visitors’ high-water mark. Junior guard Matt Tepedino scored seven points in the third quarter on his way to a game-high 15. All by himself he equaled what the Indians were doing at the other end of the floor. The unflappable senior point guard, Troy Egan, added five, and Ryan Lopp, the only Garnet to score in every quarter, made it 36-25 after three with a nifty drive through traffic. Lopp also grabbed 10 rebounds for the game.
The final eight minutes were all Rye. Their zone defense and swarming tactics repeatedly tipped or stole the ball away outright, with Thomas Flaherty sending a no-look pass, after a deflection, down the floor for a score. Matt Tepedino did the same minutes later. Junior C.J. Nemsick got in on the scoring act when he nailed a late-game three and Rye had its 18th win of the season, 53-30.
The 2018-19 season marks the fourth year in a row Coach Aquilar’s charges have won at least 15 games in a season—the only time they’ve done it in the last 60 years. The win sends the Garnets and their 11-game winning streak on the road against the league champs, #4 Byram Hills. The Bobcats cruised past Our Lady of Lourdes 58-43 in their playoff opener.
The coach was asked if playing a team three times in a season is a tall order. “Yes,” he smiled, a little wanly. “For both coaches. We both know everything about each other. They’re tall, we’re fast, and we split two close games. So, the team that executes wins.”
The execution begins Saturday afternoon in Armonk.