Lady luck is a harsh mistress. At the side of the Rye boys’ basketball team during their 16-7 campaign in 2008-09, it appears she’s spurned the Garnets this season.
Rye has dropped five straight decisions after a 2-0 start, including a pair of heartbreaking one-point losses. On December 19 at Walter Panas, the Garnets lost 53-52 after Brian Pickup’s last-second shot rimmed out. Pickup, Rye’s versatile junior captain, was stymied again just days later versus Valhalla as his potential game-winner refused to fall in a 54-53 loss.
“There are several factors in play, but first of all – as I told the team in practice the other day – the difference between this year and last is the way the ball has bounced,” said head coach Chris Dicintio. “This year the ball doesn’t seem to be bouncing in our favor in the face of a tough schedule against some very competitive teams.”
Dicintio wasn’t lying when he stressed the difficulty of Rye’s opposition. Their five losses have been to teams with a combined record of 28-8, and three of those teams – Pleasantville, Valhalla and Lakeland – are a combined 21-2.
The Garnets last played December 28 at the County Center against rival Harrison in a challenge game, separate from the annual Slam Dunk Tournament. Rye’s 58-52 loss was their first to the Huskies in nine contests dating back to 2004. Dicintio thought his charges came out tight and a bit nervous as they quickly went down 11-2. A 15-3 run over the course of the second and third quarters put the Garnets within 35-34, and they trailed by just three headed into the fourth. Harrison once again extended their lead to double digits in the final quarter, but Rye fought back to cut the lead to 54-51 with a minute to go. Connor Smith, a junior, and Pickup spurred the 9-2 comeback run offensively, and point guard Tim Lonergan made an extremely athletic play soaring in the air to save a sure turnover.
Harrison closed the game out by nailing their free throws after Smith was whistled for traveling with his team down three. Senior captain Brendan Nagle finished with 15 points, four rebounds and a block, and Pickup recorded a double-double with 28 points and 10 rebounds. The junior sizzled in the third quarter, scoring on a banker after a spin move and then pulling up from the free throw line for two.
“Pickup is the ultimate competitor,” said Dicintio. “He has been playing with me since he was a freshman, and sometimes I think parents, fans, media, and even the coaching staff forget he is only a junior. Brian has matured, works hard, hits his shots, rebounds and defends, but his leadership ability and determination are outstanding.”
Rye’s future is undoubtedly in good hands thanks to junior stars like Pickup and Smith, as well as players like Jack O’Callaghan, Kamal Logue and the Twyman brothers, Max and Chris. But as giddy as Dicintio is about the future, he knows his current Garnets team can still do serious damage, despite their record.
“When the playoffs come around, we will be battle tested,” said the coach. “I can guarantee this team will be prepared to make a splash.”
Credit the coaching staff for keeping Rye confident in the wake of those last-second losses. The program hasn’t finished under .500 in seven seasons, and these Garnets don’t want to be the team that breaks the streak.
Said Dicintio, “We have to come out with a high intensity so we don’t put ourselves in a position where the last shot determines the outcome.”