By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It’s early in the season, and three games into it the Napanee Golden Hawks are a game below .500, but they have served notice that they will be a competitive basketball team this year.
“What I’m happy with is that they’re playing as a team and they’re working together,” Hawks coach Daryl Sheffield said Tuesday after his team dropped a 50-47 senior boys high school basketball decision to the Kingston Blues.
In a game of undermanned teams at Kingston Collegiate, the Hawks had an early lead of four points and a third-quarter lead of six and though they lost them both, they still managed to make a run in the final minute. Trailing by six points with less than a minute to play, the Hawks were a failed three-point shot with nine seconds remaining away from tying the undefeated Blues.
There were 13 lead changes in the game and ample opportunities for Napanee to call it a day early, especially when a KC run of 7-2 at the end of the first half gave the Blues a four-point lead at the break, and an 11-0 run through the early part of the fourth quarter turned a six-point Napanee lead into a five-point deficit.
“By the time you get to the fourth quarter, if the same guys have been on the whole night, you’re frustrated, you’re not making the plays that (usually) work for you,” said Sheffield, who had just eight players at his disposal due to illness.
Through it all, the Hawks persevered.
“They like each other; they get along,” Sheffield said, and that’s no small part of his team’s ability to remain calm in the face of a KC press that fuelled that pivotal second-half run.
“There’s no fighting or anything like that,” Sheffield said. “They support each other and (they showed) composure on the floor. Yeah, we were down by five but they figured it out. They figured out how to play with this and not be down by 20.”
Leading the way in that regard was Liam Maracle, who led all scorers in the game with 18 points.
“He’s a very committed player,” Sheffield said, “committed to the program and committed to getting better. He wants to be better, and he’s competitive. Obviously he’s got skill but one thing that really pleases me is how he’s willing to share the ball, to make sure the five guys on the floor at the time are competitive and able to give different looks.
“In the past, sometimes we’ve had players that had that much skill and if you’d shut them down, that’s the end of it. Tonight, he was shooting and driving, then he was kicking for some three-point shots, sharing the ball. That maturity, which I hadn’t seen even last year, is there this year, and all the guys are enjoying themselves.”
Throughout the first half Napanee moved the ball nicely, and several times got the ball to an open man under the basket, only to come away with nothing. With KC playing without Sayer Powers (sprained ankle) the Hawks may have missed an opportunity to put the game away early.
“We showed them the picture of taking probably 30 shots (close to the basket) in the first half, and only 10 of them went in,” Sheffield lamented. “Our percentage of shooting threes was higher than in the paint.
“The closer you get to the basket, shouldn’t it be (easier)?”
Both times the Blues got in trouble Tuesday they solved it by playing aggressively on defence. On consecutive Napanee possessions in late in the first half, Reilly Lacasandile stole the ball and he turned it into a basket each time; early in the fourth quarter, first Riyan Khan and then Isaac Foley had steals that promptly wound up in the Napanee basket as the Blues took the lead for good.
Foley ended the game with a team-best 15 points, eight of which came in the first quarter.
“Our key conversation at half time was to guard him,” Sheffield said. “We were looking at what he was doing, and trying to make sure that he wasn’t going to be the reason we lost the game.
“Ultimately, he’s such a great player, he made the other guys play better as well, so when we stopped him doing one thing, he would beat us with the assist or whatever.”
Lacasandile, who spent much of the third quarter on the bench with four fouls, had 13 points for KC, all but two of them in the first half. Chad Thompson added nine points to the Napanee cause.
“I was really pleased with the effort,” Sheffield said. “It’s early in the season so we haven’t had a chance to see a lot of the teams but in the three games that we’ve played so far, I felt that we’ve been very competitive.”
As the smoke cleared in the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association Tuesday, there remained five undefeated teams. In addition to KC, 3-0, the Frontenac Falcons, Holy Cross Crusaders and Sydenham Golden Eagles all won their respective games to improve to 2-0. The Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers, winners of their only game this season, were idle.
Playing at home, Sydenham beat the Bayridge Blazers 61-55, and Frontenac defeated the Granite Ridge Gryphons 56-17 while the visiting Crusaders, with Braydon Norris scoring 12 points, dumped the Queen Elizabeth Raiders 49-22.
In Tuesday’s other game, Mason Kenehan scored 14 points to lead the La Salle Black Knights to their second victory in three games, 41-18 over the winless Loyalist Lancers. Vincent Leung scored six points to lead LC.
Two of the undefeated teams will meet in one of five games Thursday, when Holy Cross entertains Sydenham at 4 o’clock.