Rye High Boys’ Basketball
Garnets Reach Final Four With 50-42 Upset of Byram Hills
By Mitch Silver
Three weeks ago, Head Coach John Aguilar was telling anyone who’d listen that his Rye basketball team had to “play a perfect game” to beat Byram Hills. They pretty much did just that on the first of February and escaped with a 47-44 win when the Bobcats weren’t able to match their energy and passion.
But that was on Rye’s home floor. Saturday saw the Garnets travel to Armonk for their third encounter of the season, the one that would put the winner into Class A’s Final Four. Not only would Byram send out a 6’8” rebounding machine in Ben Leff—chosen by the Journal News to their pre-season all-star team—he’d be joined by another Journal News all-star, Willy Samsen. Samsen, a three-year starter, is the Bobcats’ shooting guard. At 6’4” he’s three inches taller than every Garnet, including starting center Ryan Lopp. To compound matters, Coach Aguilar had never won in seven tries in the Tripp Lane gym.
Now he’s 1-7. Rye jumped out to a 13-9 lead after a quarter, inched farther ahead at the half while holding the league champs to just 17 first-half points, and held a hard-won lead halfway through the third period. That’s when Samsen finally found his shot, reeling off a trio of three-pointers to pull the Bobcats within one at 32-31.
Coach Aguilar called a timeout and rejiggered his defense, pulling back from the three-quarters press to a zone the would shadow Samsen more effectively. It worked. And so did guard Rafael Velasquez, who came off the bench to scored five straight points and give his team some breathing room.
In the fourth quarter, Byram Hills closed to 40-36 on a driving bucket from forward Mike Caporale, who scored 12 on the day. But Rye’s Thomas Flaherty—who’s come into his own on offense lately—split the defense for a pair of layups to make it 44-36 with five minutes left on the clock. With that, the Garnet defense closed out the game.
Afterwards, the coach and his team learned their semifinal opponents, top-seeded Poughkeepsie, had elected to forgo the County Center and play Wednesday’s game on their home floor. Were his kids disappointed?
The coach grinned. “We’re all just happy to get past this one and make it to the last four standing.”