By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Three-quarters of the way through the high school basketball season, teams are starting to exhibit particular characteristics.
Take the Kingston Blues for example, who fell 11 points behind the Holy Cross Crusaders in the first quarter of Tuesday’s clash of undefeated teams. “That’s us,” Blues coach Dave Nichols lamented. “We dig holes and then we climb out of them.
“I don’t like it. I don’t plan it, but that’s what we do.”
Crusaders coach Alf DeMelo noted another trait of the Blues that has become familiar. “They go in spurts,” he said. “They can go on massive runs, so the sooner you stop that run, the better it is.”
KC did both of those things yesterday in a contest that would leave just one unbeaten team in the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association. The one thing that ultimately wasn’t customary for the Blues was the outcome: They lost their first game of the year, 42-39 at Holy Cross, leaving the Crusaders as the last team standing with an unblemished 7-0 record.
Those typical elements didn’t necessarily mean that the game was without its unpredictable bits, not the least of which was the way Holy Cross fashioned a 13-2 lead by the latter stages of the first quarter. KC was shooting dreadfully, as the Blues missed their first six shots, got a basket, and then missed their next seven shots in a row.
It’s certainly not the kind of start that would have foretold the Blues rallying in an 18-6 second quarter, to take a 23-19 lead into halftime. Nor would that recovery have led anyone subsequently to believe that KC would then score just two points in the third quarter, a period that ended with the Crusaders leading 27-25.
It was clear by this point that if KC had shot even to a mediocre degree of success, the Blues would have long since put the game away. Similarly, if Holy Cross hadn’t turned the ball over so often in the front court, the Crusaders could have been cruising by then.
The two shortcomings made for an interesting fourth quarter.
The Blues never got the lead back, falling six points behind with about three and a half minutes to play, but after that they got within two points twice, within one point on two other occasions—the last time with 11 seconds left in the game, when Sayre Powers made two free throws—and they had two chances to tie in the final nine seconds of the game.
The first came on the trip up the floor after Holy Cross’s Clay Taylor made a pair of free throws to increase the Crusaders’ lead to three points. Powers missed a three-point attempt from the top, but when the ball went out of bounds off a Holy Cross player, KC had another chance with three seconds left. Reilly Lacasandile, whose eight-point second quarter fuelled the earlier KC rally, missed a three from the corner to the left of the Holy Cross basket.
DeMelo said he doubted his team was going to play as well as it did in a 71-39 win over previously unbeaten Regiopolis its last game, though it looked for a while that it might.
“We came out loose,” he said, “and then I think fatigue kicked in just a little bit and (KC) went on a bit of a run.”
Suddenly the Crusaders found themselves in trouble. “We panicked a little bit,” DeMelo said. “We started playing individual ball and not team ball; they hit some shots; we weren’t rebounding, we weren’t getting transition. They went on a massive swing and we weren’t able to turn it around.
“Thank God the half came, because I don’t know what the end result would have been (otherwise). We were able to regroup and focus on the things that make us who we are: go back to rebounding and pounding the ball inside, and taking a little bit more time on offence.”
KC did what no other team in the league had been able to do: match Holy Cross rebound for rebound, even at times doing a far better job under the glass than the height-advantaged Crusaders.
“We had to,” Nichols said. “We had no choice. That’s their strength.
“The kids played good defence and we owned the boards. They got one shot and that was it. It was a great job of defensive rebounding.”
Nichols said the Blues did it by blocking the post, getting help from behind “and when the shot goes up, five guys gang rebound or block out.
“Then balls started to fall for us,” he said. “We got defensive rebounds and steals that turned into layups at the other end.”
DeMelo said his players were bothered with the speed displayed by KC.
“We were always one step behind them and that’s why we had to go to the zone,” he said. “That turned things around. They did a really good job of guarding our guys attacking to the basket. That caused us some problems; we were getting bumped off the ball a little bit.”
While disappointed with the outcome, Nichols said he wasn’t disappointed with the game.
“We had a chance,” he said. “We had a play (at the end) where we had a chance. You can’t ask for more. I want to win every game I play, but if I have a chance to win like that at the end, I can walk away and hold my head up and say we did what we had to do.”
“What do you expect of two undefeated teams, coming down to that, with one possession? It’s great,” he said. “We played nervous at times … but we found a way to win. We hit key shots at the end.
“It’s nice to get the win, but the playoffs are going to be very interesting. I think any of the top five teams can win. Someone like a Sydenham or a Regi, ending in that four seed, could beat the No. 1 in the semifinals, so you can’t get complacent.”
In the losing cause, Powers of KC led all scorers with 15 points, including all five of his team’s points in the first quarter and six points in the fourth. Bertug Yoruk came off the bench to score eight points, all of them in the fourth quarter, in a performance that included back-to-back three-point baskets in the final two minutes that cut KC deficits to 36-34, and then 38-37.
The Holy Cross scoring was spread among seven players, with Luciano Troiani leading with 11 points—six in the fourth quarter—and Sam Pierson scoring 10—eight of them in the second half.
Elsewhere Tuesday, the La Salle Black Knights won their second game in a row, 40-14 over the winless Granite Ridge Gryphons; the Sydenham Golden Eagles moved into a third-place tie with idle Frontenac at 5-2 as they defeated the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers 56-47, handing Regi its third loss in a row, and the Queen Elizabeth Raiders got 20 points from Evrold Watts in a 50-40 win over the Bayridge Blazers.
Matt Brash scored 17 points in that game for Bayridge.