By Mitch Silver
Three days after crushing Pleasantville by a score of 72-29 in the preliminary game of their annual Cliff Clinton tournament, Coach John Aguilar’s Rye Garnets faced off against the winner of the other prelim, the Blind Brook Trojans, in Draddy Gymnasium December 11.
Blind Brook sent out four starting senior guards, including two-time All-Conference guard Jake DiGiansante, who’s on the verge of joining Rye’s recently graduated star Charlie Nagle as a 1,000-point career scorer. The Trojans shot a bunch of threes to defeat Sleepy Hollow on Friday and make it to the snow-delayed Monday finale.
The teams took turns in the lead early on, with the score knotted 12-all at the end of the first period. The Garnets, missing a couple of starters, were also missing their shots in the first half. They more than made up for it, however, with a trapping zone defense and then a switch to man-to-man that held Blind Brook scoreless for the first six minutes of the second period. It enabled Rye to walk off the floor at the half up 23-17.
The Garnets upped their lead by a point after three, 34-27. But then the real game began.
Blind Brook discovered their collective shooting touch in the final quarter, nailing five three-pointers overall and closing to 39-36 with 3:42 left on the clock. That’s when senior co-captain Max Samberg took over for Rye.
He’d already taken a charging foul under the basket. Now Samberg pulled down a rebound off a Trojan miss and got fouled with 85 seconds left in the game. He converted both free throws before Blind Brook’s Alex Feuerstein nailed one of those threes ten seconds later to make it 44-39.
Speedy sophomore Matthew Tepedino finished off a fast break for Rye, but Blind Brook’s Michael Bucci hit another trifecta with 53 ticks left, and the score was 46-42. Samberg directed Rye’s offense in holding the ball as the clock ran down. The Trojans finally had to foul him, and the tournament MVP calmly nailed his free throw to sew up the victory, 47-43.
After the game, his coach spoke highly of Samberg. “It all begins with Max. He is our leader and his unselfishness trickles down to the rest of the guys. He can pass, rebound, and score, but he’d rather pass to an open player than take a difficult shot of his own.”
Three days later, Samberg was at it again against a tough Walter Panas team, led by two talented Brandons: 6’2” All-Conference returnee Brandon Ramos and 5’10” All-League point guard Brandon Hodge. In a game in which neither team led by more than six points, Panas used a great hustle play to save the ball with six seconds left to play. Ramos canned the resulting one-and-one to send the home team up by 48-46 with what looked like the win.
That is, until Samberg drove the length of the court and made a contested three-point shot at the buzzer for the 49-48 victory.
Rye continued its winning ways December 16, with a four-point win over Scarsdale, 56-52. After non-league tilts against Valhalla and Riverside post-press time, the Garnets take on rival Harrison High, which is fresh off winning their own holiday basketball tournament, tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. at…wait for it…the Westchester County Center.
The Trojans’ Hudson Powell (#33) battles Rye’s Max Samberg (#20) and A.J. Thompson for a crucial rebound.
Coach John Aguilar (left) and his smiling son accept the Cliff Clinton Tournament trophy from Dave Heller (center) of the Rye Lions Club. Max Samberg (#20) was named the tourney’s MVP. A.J. Thompson (#35) and Will Tepedino also made the All-Tournament team.