Garnets Go Down Swinging in Thrilling Section Quarterfinal

If the final seconds of February 17’s Class A Section quarterfinal at Tappan Zee had gone the other way, the Rye boys’ basketball team would have had the honor of playing in the County Center for a second consecutive year. Instead, the No. 7-seeded Dutchmen escaped with a 53-49 victory against the 18th-seeded Garnets, who scratched, clawed and ultimately played a game that embodied their entire season.

Dropped in a hostile environment and facing an 11-point deficit early in the third quarter, Rye (10-11) did what has come naturally this year. They got to work.

Prepared for battle

Down nine midway through the third quarter, senior captain Brendan Nagle soared for an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Tim Lonergan beyond the 3-point arc. Lonergan, also a senior captain, drained the shot from downtown, jump-starting a 16-4 run that put the Garnets ahead 45-42 with 6:41 remaining in the contest. A variety of Garnets got into the act during the spurt including junior Conor Smith, who nailed a pair of unlikely back-to-back jumpers with the defense swarming. Rye completely swung the momentum in their favor by the end of the third, when junior captain Brian Pickup hit a clutch 3-pointer to pull his team within one at quarter’s close.

“The coaching staff was very confident at halftime. We were right where we wanted to be,” said head coach Chris DiCintio. “That might sound funny, but this team has responded all year with our backs against the wall.”

Brendan Nagle

Tappan Zee also showed moxie when trailing late in a game they led for most of the way. The Dutchmen erased the Garnets’ advantage with a 6-2 run to go up 48-47. Rye regained the lead when Pickup calmly sank a pair of free throws with 3:52 remaining. Those points, however, were the last Rye would score.

Still, the finale was not without its drama. Thanks to some timely whistling from the Garnets’ fans, Tappan Zee’s Brendan Donahue missed a pair of free throws with his team up 50-49 and 33.8 seconds remaining. After a Rye timeout, Smith quickly fired a long jumper but missed. The Garnets had one more chance when the Dutchmen misfired again from the charity stripe.

Conor Smith

Down 51-49 with 15.6 ticks left, Lonergan drove the court and dished to wide-open freshman Max Twyman beyond the arc. Twyman’s shot was long, but sailed right to Nagle under the right side of the basket. Tragically for Rye, Nagle’s close-range shot rimmed out.

“We’ve been in the quarterfinal in four of the last five years and each time it has come down to the buzzer,” said DiCintio. “Twice it went our way, and the other two it went theirs. Sometimes it drops for you, and sometimes it doesn’t. Our kids were prepared and played hard. I’m very proud of what they accomplished this year.”

The Garnets lost four starting seniors and 2009’s top sixth man entering the season. Despite a 2-5 start, the team never quit and began to gel as the season wore on. Rye skidded into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak, but made up for it when they defeated No. 15 Our Lady of Lourdes 48-43 in Poughkeepsie in a Sectional outbracket game. That victory gave them confidence heading into the next night’s first round game at second-seeded Sleepy Hollow. There, the Garnets staged one of the most improbable upsets in Sectional history with a 54-39 victory.

Tim Lonergan

“After those season-ending losses, we weren’t excited when we thought the Lourdes game could be our final one,” said Lonergan. “But pulling out that win an hour away in front of a crazy crowd gave us everything we needed the next night at Sleepy Hollow. We knew that if we played our game, we could hang with them.”

DiCintio credited Lonergan as the team’s unsung hero, and the senior captain showed why against the Dutchmen with 13 crucial points. He was unstoppable going to the rim, undressing his opposing point guard time and again.

While Rye graduates stalwarts Lonergan and Nagle in June, they will return their leading scorers in three-year starter Pickup and two-year player Smith, as well as the Twyman brothers Chris and Max. Kamal Logue, whom Lonergan says has the potential to be a better point than even he, will take over at the one, and Jack O’Callaghan will provide important guard minutes as well. In addition, Rye will benefit from a pair of up-and-coming big men in Teddy Ice and Matt Keough.

“With such a strong nucleus and a promising supporting cast, anything short of a County Center appearance would be a disappointment,” said DiCintio. “I think we can win the Section next year.”

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