In sports, momentum is everything. The hoary old axiom is especially true in basketball, where one seemingly insignificant play can bring about a sea change in a team’s destiny.
For the Rye Country Day boys’ basketball team, that moment came with six seconds left in the first half of their NYSAIS Class C quarterfinal with Columbia Prep. Trailing 23-21, senior captain Patrick Manus blocked a shot that careened back into the shooter and out of bounds. The Wildcats took over and ran a play head coach Vin Minotti has had them perform at the end of every practice. Jason Rogers, the other senior captain, found Garrett Washington in the corner and the sophomore calmly unleashed a 3-pointer that splashed through the net as the buzzer sounded to give RCDS a one-point halftime advantage.
Rye Country Day never trailed again in the NYSAIS tournament, and their torrid run culminated in the program’s first State championship. The third-seeded Wildcats soundly defeated No. 1 Friends Seminary 58-42 March 7 at Fieldston School in the Bronx.
“It feels pretty good right now,” said junior Lowes Moore, smiling from ear to ear. “We were a little nervous before it started, but as soon as the ball went up it was game time. We worked hard all day and didn’t let any little mess-up get us down. I’m so proud of what we accomplished.”
Moore was one of two players to record a double-double for the Wildcats. He finished with 10 rebounds and 10 points, eight of which came in the second half as he pounded the Owls mercilessly down low. Rogers was the other, capping a gleaming RCDS career with 19 points and 10 boards. The senior captain was the catalyst in a 6-0 run to begin the championship tilt, scoring four points and assisting Moore on the other basket.
“Jason’s leadership on and off the court has been a big lift for this program,” said a thrilled Minotti when asked to comment on Rogers. “I’m happy for everyone, particularly the senior class and Jason, who has been just terrific for us.”
The graduating seniors include Rogers, Manus, Brian Glazewski, Alex Rieger and Andrew Shapiro. Manus put his stamp on the finale thanks to a hot hand. He hit a pair of crucial second quarter 3-pointers that gave his team separation. Glazewski, who moves on offense like the bruising running back he is in the fall, kept doing the little things – causing deflections, making the extra pass – that a team needs to win. It’s something he’s done all season, and his coach did not fail to notice.
“A lot of his contributions don’t appear in the box score, but they do end up in the coaches’ minds,” said Minotti. “He was a real unsung hero, and offensively it is key to have an unselfish player like him. He ran the show out there and was a huge part of the championship.”
Junior Alex Gendelman and sophomore Darren Douglas also contributed in the win, and – along with Moore – will be part of a returning nucleus that figures to have RCDS defending their title with vigor next year. Douglas scored 47 points in the tournament, chipping in 14 and five assists in the finale.
“Every single one of these boys had some of this,” said Minotti. “We made memories for a lifetime here. It’s an incredible feeling and really a credit to the entire team. It was terrific for us to put together 32 minutes of our brand of basketball. We were patient on offense and let loose on the defensive end.”
The Wildcats had a lot on their minds entering the championship. Former RCDS coach John Sabia, who now works the game clock for the team, lost his wife earlier in the year, and the Wildcats made it a point to fight for him. On the court, Rye Country Day was upset in the first round of the Fairchester Athletic Association tournament in late February. Although the Wildcats were disappointed with the loss, their contests all season in the strong Fairchester league had them battle-tested and poised to win the State title.
“We definitely used our first-round loss in the FAA as motivation,” said Rogers. “Nothing was going to stop us this time. Our season began here in the Fieldston tournament and ends here with a State championship. It’s a storybook ending.”