Rye High Boys’ Basketball
Strong Defense Fuels Rye Section Semifinal Victory
BY CHRIS URBAN
Coming off wins over Nyack and Albertus Magnus at home, Rye was eager to continue their playoff push against No. 7 seed Pearl River in the Section 1 Class A semifinals at the County Center March 4. The Pirates had upset the No. 2 seed, Byram Hills, making them fierce opponents in a battle to take on the winner of the other semifinal between Tappan Zee (1) and Poughkeepsie (4) in the final.
The Garnets led 14-11 at the end of the first quarter in which both teams struggled to get used to the County Center’s court parameters. Despite the difficult adjustment on shots from the field, the Garnets did a good job of getting to the free throw line throughout the opening quarter.
Quinn Kelly noted that the County Center was “definitely a different atmosphere than a regular high school gym. The arena gets the adrenaline flowing and everyone gets even more hyped than usual.”
Rye would then go on a 5-1 run to start the second quarter, which forced a Pearl River timeout with 5:17 remaining in the half. Afterwards, Pearl River crafted their own 8-0 run later in the quarter to come within one, 21-20, forcing a Rye timeout with 2:35 remaining. CJ Nemsick silenced the Pirates’ run with a big three-pointer, resulting in a 24-24 tie at halftime.
Momentum shifted in Rye’s favor at the start of the second half and they went on an early 6-0 run. Pearl River wouldn’t produce a basket until 4:53 into the third quarter, a testament to Rye’s halftime defensive adjustments.
But Pearl River came roaring back late in the quarter thanks to impressive play in the paint by Mike Morrissey. Rye held on to a 34-33 lead heading into the final quarter.
Coach John Aguilar remarked that on the Pirates’ run, “They exploited us inside with their size, number 44 [Morrissey] was tremendous, and they did a great job getting the ball into him. We made a little adjustment going into the fourth quarter and I thought our guys showed a lot of toughness and endurance down the stretch.”
Aguilar was referencing the Garnets’ tight full-court press, which afforded them easy buckets in transition. But Pearl River wasn’t done yet, as John Hayes made a corner three to draw within three points late. Rye’s Alex Vollbrecht made two clutch free throws to extend the Garnet lead by five and sink the Pirates hopes, as Rye closed it out 53-46.
“There was a lot of pressure when I took the free throws, but I made sure to stay calm and focus on just making them,” Vollbrecht said. “Our game plan couldn’t have been better, and our press was working to perfection. We played good situational basketball to grind this one out.”
The Garnets outscored the Pirates 19-13 in the fourth quarter to advance to the Section 1 Class A Final for the first time in 31 years.
On his team’s overall performance, Matthew Tepedino said, “We have a ton of offensive firepower, but we were able to buckle down on defense tonight and I think the fact that we can do both is a very good sign.”
Rafael Velasquez paced the Garnets with 12 points, Kelly 11 and Tepedino also scored 11 points while adding seven steals. Mike Morrisey led the Pirates with 17 points and eight rebounds, and John Hayes had 16 points.
The 19-4 Garnets will now play the 16-6 Poughkeepsie Pioneers in the final Sunday, March 8, at County Center at 7 p.m.
Matthew Tepedino slashes into the paint against Pearl River. 0054
Rafael Velasquez leading a transition play in the Section 1 semifinal. 0037
James Mackle rises for two over Pearl River defenders. 0097
The Garnet bench erupts with seconds left on the County Center clock 0136
Quinn Kelly being forcefully denied a lane by Pearl River defender. 0091
- Photos by Leif Skodnick