BLACK KNIGHTS TOUGH OUT WIN AT WHITESBORO
RFA’s #12 Devin Clark hangs on to the rock.
By Nick Sardina/MHTS
RFA opens league season with 52-45 victory
MARCY – In a hard-fought defensive struggle, in which baskets were extremely tough to come by, it’s usually the team that does the dirty work that comes away with the victory.
In Friday night’s Tri Valley League game at Whitesboro, it was the visiting Rome Free Academy Black Knights who got to more loose balls and made the most of the extra opportunities in earning a 52-45 victory.
After the Warriors (0-2, 2-2) held one-point advantages after the first quarter, and at halftime, it was RFA (1-0, 2-2) that closed strong at the end of the third and fourth quarters to pull out a hard-earned win.
“Every game in the TVL is a tough game and is going to be a battle,” said RFA head coach Nick Medicis, now in his sixth year. “In this league, there are no easy wins.”
Friday was no exception. RFA’s largest lead was the final margin, while Whitesboro’s was five points, at 32-27 early in the third quarter.
Senior swingman Jeff Cooke led the way for the Black Knights with 21 points, including four clutch 3-pointers.
Three of Cooke’s long-range bombs came in the crucial third quarter.
His last three of the game came off a great hustle play by point guard Saleem Lewis, who ran down a loose ball under Whitesboro’s basket.
As Lewis jumped to save the ball as it was going out of bounds, he found Cooke, who buried the three from the top of the key to give RFA a 40-38 advantage after three quarters.
Cooke’s three finished off a 13-6 run to end the quarter.
“We rebounded well and had a lot of offensive boards,” said Cooke, who is playing in his second varsity season. “Those boards and loose balls led to kick-outs for threes and we capitalized when we had those chances. … That was big.”
Whitesboro scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to claim a 43-40 lead, as sophomore swingman Luke Moore driving lay-in was sandwiched by two free throws from Vin Cotrupe and one by Tom Sblendorio.
RFA guard Nate Rosa answered with a game-tying three from the right wing with just less than four minutes remaining.
Moore, who led the way for the Warriors with 13 points, briefly gave his team a one-point edge with a free throw, but the Black Knights responded with six straight points, capped by a nifty drive by a Spencer Kahler for a 49-44 advantage.
The Warriors, who missed numerous makeable shots around the hoop, were not able to answer RFA’s surge, as the Black Knights closed out the game with a 9-1 run in the final three minute
“We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Whitesboro head coach Steve Heitz said. “We gave up just 52 points, and when you do that, you’d think your chances of winning are pretty good. But we only put up 45, and when you do that, you’re not going to win many games.”
Heitz thought as the game when on, and his team was struggling to finish, it snowballed a bit.
“When you can’t score, everything else is magnified,” Heitz said. “And as the game goes on you start pressing, and it becomes harder and harder. We just have to learn how to fight through it.”
Kahler had 13 points and 6-5 center Angus Evans scored 11 and altered many of Whitesboro’s shot in the paint.
“This was the best game for me so far,” said Evans, a junior. “I did a good job of working and calling for the ball, and finishing when I got it. But, it wouldn’t matter if my teammates didn’t do such a good job getting it to me.”
RFA pressed much of the game, and sat back in a zone when it became a halfcourt game.
The Warriors often broke the Black Knights’ press, but too often came up empty at the rim.
“We had to make them pay for pressing, and we couldn’t because we just missed too many easy shots,” said Heitz, whose Warriors have dropped two straight league games after opening the season by winning the Central Square Tournament last week.
Rome Free Academy, which split games in the Central Square Tournament, hopes Friday’s victory can be a springboard in trying to earn a second-straight TVL title – the Black Knights tied New Hartford and Notre Dame for the league championship last season.
“We have a bit of a chip on our shoulders because no one is mentioning us as contenders,” Medicis said. “We hear about New Hartford being good and other teams being good, but we don’t hear anything about RFA.”
Next up for RFA is nonleague game Thursday at West Genesee. The Warriors will look to get back on track Tuesday night at Notre Dame.
RFA 52, Whitesboro 45
1 2 3 4 Total
RFA 13 14 13 12 52
Whitesboro 14 14 10 7 45
RFA: (1-0, 2-2): Jeff Cooke 21, Spencer Kahler 13, Angus Evans 11, Saleem Lewis 4, Nate Rosa 3. Totals: 19-7-52. 3-Pointers: Cooke 4, Kahler 2, Rosa.
Whitesboro: (0-2, 2-2): Luke Moore 13, Vin Cotrupe 7, Nick Carzo 6, T.J. Borza 6, Tom Sblendorio 5, Joel Jakubowicz 5, Colin Salisbury 3. Totals: 16-9-45. 3-Pointers: Borza 2, Jakubowicz, Salisbury.