By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Among all the scenarios that one might have proposed for the clash of the last two undefeated high school basketball teams in the county, it’s unlikely any would have included the caveat that the defending champion Frontenac Falcons wouldn’t score a point in the first six and a half minutes of the game.
That’s what happened Tuesday, however, and by the time Brendan Steele scored Frontenac’s first basket with 1:21 to play in the first quarter, the Sydenham Golden Eagles had built a 12-point lead that essentially became the difference in the Eagles’ 51-41 victory.
The win clinched first place for Sydenham and moved the Eagles one step closer to a perfect regular schedule. They can complete the 10-0 season with a victory Thursday at Queen Elizabeth.
Playing in a packed gymnasium at Sydenham, the Eagles were dominant in every respect in the first half. They held Frontenac to just 15 first-half points, and led by 20 at halftime.
“I was surprised they didn’t score more,” Sydenham coach Shaun Kennedy said.
Only one team had come within seven points of Frontenac as the Falcons won their first eight games and nobody had held them to fewer than 53 points in a game. Their average margin of victory was almost 25 points, but Frontenac’s poor shooting—however many three-point attempts the Falcons put up, only one scored and that not until the fourth quarter—and a splendid defensive performance by Sydenham meant there would be nothing of the sort on Tuesday afternoon.
“They’re really tough to deal with,” Falcons coach Suche James said. “They’re so long, and they use it well. Obviously, we didn’t play great offensively, but (the outcome) has more to do with what they did than what we did. They’re a tough team and they played experienced, and we played like we weren’t quite that experienced. They handled us pretty well, defensively.
“We didn’t shoot well. We certainly had our poorest showing scoring the basketball, that’s for sure. We did have enough really good looks, and it would have been nice to knock some (three-pointers) down, but I’m not sure it would have been enough.”
The Falcons hadn’t played a league game in three weeks—a break one week longer than the rest of the league—but they did play in a tournament on the weekend and James said there was no rust that had to be shaken off at the start of the game.
“(Sydenham) just deserved to win that game and we did not,” he said. “That’s the end of the story. They played very tough and we didn’t. We didn’t play as tough as we need to play to beat a team like that.
“Even with how they played defensively, even with how we shot the ball, at the end of the day we weren’t tough enough to beat that team.”
Kennedy knew better than to start savouring the victory too early. In fact, Frontenac opened the second half with an 8-0 run that was fuelled by turnovers off the Falcons’ pressure defence. Sydenham turned it around, however, when Frontenac was assessed a technical foul and the Eagles turned it into three points that bumped the lead back up to 17.
“When we came out in the third quarter, we were a little bit complacent and Frontenac made some really nice adjustments and did some different things to us, offensively,” he said.
“They caught us vulnerable. We didn’t feel that same adversity in the first half, so when it comes in the second half it feels like it’s twice as bad. Frontenac did a great job taking away our time to think in the second half. They guarded us in the full court every single play, and as soon as we crossed half, there was constant pressure.
“They really smothered us in the second half.”
Kennedy said that when a team has the kind of success the Eagles had in the first half Tuesday, it’s hard to duplicate.
“To have a 20-point lead at halftime against Frontenac? I was surprised by that score (but) we’re not naïve. We knew Frontenac would come back and put a surge on and we told the kids to be ready for that. We had a structure and a plan in place but Frontenac found a way to take away the things that were going right in the first half.
“When you play Frontenac, everybody on the court needs to know how to dribble, or be effective dribbling, because they make you put the ball in places you don’t want to put the ball.”
Ben Lusk led all scorers with 22 points for Sydenham, 14 of them in the first half. Thomas Withey scored 16, all but three of them in the first half. Frontenac, which actually outscored the home team by 10 points in the second half, got 16 points from Carter Matheson and 11 from Hoadley Raymond.
Frontenac, 8-1, will end its regular schedule Thursday against Regi, 7-2, in a game that will have serious implications for playoff seeding. A Frontenac victory gives the Falcons second place outright; a Regi win will create a three-team tie at 8-2 with Bayridge.
In other games involving those teams, Frontenac beat Bayridge by seven points in the opening game of the season for both teams, and Bayridge prevailed by 10 over Regi in mid-January.
In games Tuesday, Bayridge ended its regular schedule by edging Holy Cross 51-47 and Regi beat Granite Ridge 61-26.