Sullivan West Proves Its Capacity To Wrangle With The Best As It Pushes Seward Nearly To The Brink In Tough League Loss
S.S. Seward 61, Sullivan West 59
By RICHARD A. ROSS
Photos at: www.sportsiny.com.
LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY—Talent and heart.
The combination of those two ingredients coupled with crisp execution can augur great success and if things break right, even yield a title.
As the Division V season rolls on the plot thickens. Now it seems almost certain that four of the five OCIAA teams will be punching tickets to the Big Dance. That includes the feisty Dawgs of Sullivan West, a team that may well prove to be the X factor when the Section IX tournament gets underway.
Say what you will about the hierarchy in Division V with Seward 8-4 (3-0 OCIAA) at the top of the heap with its current unblemished league record.
For sure the defending Section IX Class C champions have what it takes to repeat despite deploying a nearly entirely new cast from last year.
Replete with a bevy of fine shooters, imposing size, a plethora of skills and one of the best coaches around in hoops Guru Rob Gravelle, Seward is a force to reckon with.
Meanwhile don’t forget two fine teams across the river in powerful Rhinebeck and John A. Coleman Catholic. All things considered, it’s going to be a zany tournament this year, that’s for sure and one that could evince its share of surprises and upsets.
But what about Sullivan West at 6-4 (1-3 OCIAA)?
After playing arguably their best game of the season and coming up just short of Seward in a 61-59 home thriller, onlookers including Gravelle know the Bulldogs are a serious contender.
This game which had the potential to become one of the biggest upsets in Section IX this season, featured the Westies at their best, clicking with a sextet of blocked shots by senior Ronj Padu (Dr. Block) who also posted a team-high 19 points, five more three-pointers from Section IX’s leading downtown shooter Noah Bauer (Dr. Tré) who has now posted 32 missiles this season, and a brilliant game by point guard Jiron Kevii whose athleticism is never in question and whose decision-making acumen in this outing showed how vital he can be in the team’s quest. Kevii had 15 points in his best all around showing this year.
But most impressively, the Bulldogs showed they have no quit in them. Down by ten in the third quarater, they capitalized on a couple of inefficient trips up the floor by the Spartans and their own timely shooting to tie the game in which the lead had already changed hands a number of times. In that auspicious third stanza the Dawgs outscored Seward 20-15 and fired in a quartet of treys including two from Dr. Tré and one apiece from Padu and Kevii.
Bear this in mind too, many of those shots were contended with defenders often in the face of the shooters.
Great boxers can take a punch and counter and despite the loss, which clearly stung the Westies who were hoping to end the first half of their league season at 2-2 instead of 1-3, the Bulldogs proved they could play with anybody.
Asked if he was surprised by how close Sullivan West had come to beating his team, Gravelle answered in his usual candid and revealing fashion:
“Nope. They’re talented and they made shots and I’ve said this a million times but it’s still true: Division V road games are not easy.
Sullivan West may have been a little inconsistent during this basketball season thus far, but you watched them on the football field and you know there’s no give up in these kids and this is what we talked about all week. In addition to their basketball skills they have tremendous heart. Winning…they know what it is. They had a great fall and they’re great athletes,” he averred.
Referencing Padu’s blocked shots, Gravelle while acknowledging the seniors’ great athleticism noted “we needed to be smarter going to the rim knowing his ability to block shots.”
I’ve know Gravelle for years and watched his teams win and lose (mostly win).Every game is an opportunity to teach and improve. Great coaches analyze every facet of their team’s games. They instruct, alter things and motivate constantly. Gravelle knows his team didn’t author their best game against Sullivan West and you can be sure the next time the teams meet, his players will have a refined strategy for dealing with Sullivan West’s strongest assets.
But the same has to hold true for the Bulldogs and Coach Bruce Nober, namely to siphon off the best of what worked here and refine it even more. There are still places where the Dawgs allow teams to score too easily and others where they fail to close out by finishing their easy lay ups or close shots that could prove to be the difference between advancing in the playoffs or going home to dust off baseball, track or soccer footware.
Now on to the minutiae of the game, something I will often eschew in contests where the devil is not in the details.
Sullivan West had an auspicious start in this game and led 18-12 at the end of the first quarter.
Padu got set to tip it up against Seward’s big man 6’5 junior” Bobby Olsen. Seward controlled the tip but it was SW senior Mark Castro who drew first blood. Olsen answered and a subsequent put back by Seward junior Eric Block marshaled the fist of many lead changes to come. Bauer’s first trey gave the Dawgs’ the 5-4 edge. Olsen regained the lead which widened with a put back by junior Mafuse Solomon.
A bucket by Padu and Bauer’s second trey marshaled the fourth lead change of the quarter as the Dawgs went back on top 9-8.
Seward regained the lead at 10-9. Padu answered as the lead changed hands for the sixth time with the Dawgs now leading 11-10. Kevii hit one of two from the stripe prior to the Dawgs closing up the quarter on a 6-2-run.
Padu’s trio of blocked shots had the Dawg Pound in a Tizzy. Scoring by Castro, Padu and Kevii helped to close out the stanza.
Seward junior Kyle Straub sliced easily to the rim as Seward began its resurgence that would manifest itself in a 22-9 outscoring of Sullivan West to evince a 34-27 lead by the half.
Padu hit two from the stripe to maintain the six point edge but it was about to be undone. Castro picked up his second foul as Straub hit two from the stripe. Straub scored easily with no weak side help from the Westies to pull the Spartans close at 21-20.
Craig Smith gave Seward the lead at 22-21 marking the seventh shift in the game thus far with 2:21 to go. A trey from Block widened the lead to four at 25-21. Padu authored his fourth block as the fans went quasi-beserk.
Seward held a 31-24 lead with about a minute remaining in the half. Padu had his fifth block. Bauer’s third trey of the night narrowed the deficit to 5 at 32-27. Seward had the last word as the teams headed in to talk it over as the Sullivan West cheerleaders took to the floor with their spirit, verve and lifts.
In that first half Olsen posted 12 of his eventual 14 points. Block had eight that included a pair of treys and Straub posted six points.
Padu paced Sullivan West with ten first half points. Bauer had nine.
The Dawgs inbounded to start the third quarter. Olsen began the scoring. Kevii answered with a trey. A bucket by Spartan senior Craig Smith made for a ten-point Seward lead at 40-30 with 5:35 to go in the frame. Bauer posted a three. Padu had a block and Bauer added another trey to make it 40-36. Seward turned it over. Seward’s Rob Scott hit one of two from the stripe to widen the margin to five.
Seward advanced its lead to 45-38 with 2:18 remaining in the period. Kevii had back-to-back buckets to cut the lead to three. Seward’s shot selections were poor and Padu tied the game with a trey at 45-all with 1:11 to go.
Padu gave the Dawgs the lead for the eighth change of the game but Seward tied it right back up with 30 seconds remaining. After a turnover by the Westies Soctt had an uncontested put back to give Seward a 49-47 lead at the end of the quarter. With eight minutes remaining and 11 lead changes already manifested, the home crowd braced itself for what they hoped would be a momentous upset.
Kevii had eight in that fiery third quarter. Bauer had six and Padu had posted five. Block and Smith each posted four for the Spartans in the third stanza.
“De-fense,” chanted the Dawg Pound as the quarter got underway.
Seward scored first but an off-balance shot by Padu cut the margin back down to two. An athletic shot by Seward junior Mafuse Solomon made it four again. Padu had stood in to take the charge but the officials waved it off. The photo seems to show him standing his ground.
Kevii’s layup was discounted as it had hit the top of the backboard as the score stood at 53-49 with 5:10 to go. Solomon’s turn around jumper widened the margin to six.
Solomon’s breakaway lay up authored an eight-point lead but the Dawgs wouldn’t quit. The clock read 4:31 to go and if a run was coming it would have to be soon.
“Here we go Bulldogs, here we go,” chanted the black-clad Dawg Pound.
Kevii’s three made it 59-54 with 3:20 to go. A put back by Scott took advantage of n weak side help to make it 61-54.
A turnaround jumper by Padu made it 61-56 with 2:37 to go. Seward missed a lay up and Gravelle called a time out. Bauer missed a lay up that would have closed the gap to three. Padu had a miss on the next trip down the floor. With 38.1 seconds to go the Dawgs now had the ball back. Castro hit one of two from the line to make it 61-57 with 13 seconds to go.
Nober’s problem was Seward’s lack of fouls in the half so quick fouls didn’t help as the Spartans retained possession. In the waning seconds Bauer scored an uncontested lay up as the buzzer sounded for the 61-59 Seward win.
Nober agreed that it was the best his team had played this season.
“It’s a sport of runs. Our guys didn’t panic when they got down by ten. We got a couple of turnovers, made a couple of shots, made a run and got right back in the game,” he averred.
“Nober went on to say, “It was nice to get some really nice play from our point guard. He has a tough stretch for the last couple of weeks. He’s got all the athletic ability in the world and when he’s making good decisions we’re a very good team,” he noted.
As to Padu, Nober noted,”He’s got great instincts and God-given gifts that help him get off the floor pretty well. As to Bauer’s ability to hit shots with defenders in his face, Nober attested, “He’s worked on his release. He’s got a quick release and he’s worked hard to get himself to this point.”
As noted Padu had 19 points for Sullivan West. Bauer had 17 and Kevii 15. The Dawgs were seven-for-11 from the stripe (63.6%). Olson and Block led Seward with 14 apiece. Solomon had 13. The Spartans were nine-for-13 from the line (69%).
This coming week is Regents Week so there will be a break in the action. Seward travels to Tri-Valley on January30 and Sullivan West doesn’t play until it takes on Livingston Manor on February 3.
For an album of photos, visit www.sportsiny.com.