By Mitch Silver
The Rye Garnets were under intense pressure as they took their gym floor on a recent Friday night. First off, it was Senior Night, and one of the biggest crowds in Rye basketball history — they turned people away at the door — were making the kind of noise a huge crowd makes in a high school gym. Second, the players knew a loss would eliminate any chance of winning a piece of the league title, something Rye hadn’t done since 2009. Third, they were playing Byram Hills, the defending champs and titleholders for three straight years.
Oh, and fourth: warming up on the other side of half court was Byram’s all-everything shooting guard Skylar Sinon, who’d scored 51 points three days earlier. That kind of pressure.
Head Coach John Aguilar described Rye’s strategy. “It was the best week of practice we’ve had all year and the boys carried that intensity into the game, which proved to be a back-and-forth affair the entire night. Defense was great for both squads; we were in a no-help defense on Sinon while doubling down inside on their 6’ 6” big man, Ben Leff. He scored 19 points in the second half against us at their place when they ended our 12-game winning streak back in January.”
Now for the climax (only the first one, as it turned out): with five seconds left and the Garnets down three, Byram Hills planned on fouling. But by the time they did with 0.9 seconds showing on the clock, co-captain Samberg was already launching a three-pointer. The senior stepped to the line, needing to make all three free throws. Did someone mention pressure? Not, apparently, to Max Samberg. He calmly canned them all to send things into overtime.
The OT, as Yogi Berra would say, was déjà vu all over again. Samberg — who will be called Mr. Clutch for the rest of his life — hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie up the game yet again.
In the second five-minute overtime, Rye proved more than the Bobcats could handle. Though the visitors’ Mike Parrotta hit his sixth shot from beyond the arc, Samberg — with 18 points on the night — and Quinn Kelly with 16 provided enough firepower to nudge the Garnets over the line for the 60-57 win and a share of the title with Byram Hills.
The 17-3 Rye Garnets host the first game of the playoffs tonight at 7 p.m.
This Garnet squad will soon be included in a banner behind them.