By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It was just as Geoff Stewart suspected.
With the memory of Tuesday’s victory over previously unbeaten Regiopolis fresh, and La Salle’s 2-4 record plain for his players to see, he was concerned.
“This game has potential to be a trap game,” Stewart told his players before their high school senior basketball game Thursday afternoon. “We were so high after the Regi effort, and looking at La Salle’s record—and making assumptions about what La Salle was going to be able to do based on that record—could potentially come back to haunt us.
“And it did.”
The Blazers trailed for a good part of the game, and needed some late-game heroics—and a little bit of good fortune—finally to prevail, 59-57, over the Black Knights.
La Salle led 55-52 with a little more than three minutes to play in the game. Mitchell Knights tied the game 55-55 with about two minutes to go but La Salle answered not long after that to regain the lead. Sent to the free-throw line, Austin Macklem made one shot to tie the game, then Jordan Fehr hit a pair of foul shots with 61 seconds left in the game as Bayridge took the lead for good.
La Salle managed just one basket in the final 3:18 of the game, and didn’t really have a good look in the final minute. In the final 38 seconds, La Salle turned the ball over in the front court and Macklem missed a foul shot while shooting in a bonus situation. La Salle had possession out of bounds with 3.8b seconds left but the Knights turned the ball over on the inbounds pass and Bayridge ran out the clock.
“When we were down one the mindset was continue to attack the basket and (attack) off everything we do," Stewart said. "Because we only had two fouls, let’s be really aggressive in full-court man. I figured if worse came to worst, we’d take a bunch of fouls on ball carriers and all that was going to do was allow us to reset our defence.”
“We put ourselves in a position to get lucky. They sent Austin to the line to tie and Jordan to the line for two to win, and it was our good fortune."
That their scoring touch betrayed La Salle at the end of the game was disappointing for the Knights, who had otherwise staged something of an offensive renaissance, scoring more than 37 points for the first time in three games. They'd also overcome a deficit that had grown to as much as five points early in the fourth quarter, before regaining the lead at 49-48.
“We had a good game plan,” Knights coach Rom Severino said. “We did well against their zone, and we’re learning to play better as a team, meaning we’re relying less on our one-on-one stuff. We’re beginning to create for each other, but we’re still in the beginning phase.
“We’ve got a lot of basketball on the back end of the season. We’re confident that we’ll continue to improve because we have a lot to improve on.”
Braden Elliott scored 16 points for La Salle, 10 of them in the first quarter. Isaac Hetherington and Cody Webb each added 10 points to the Knights’ attack.
Bayridge got 21 points from Macklem and 13 from Matt Brash, who drained three three-point baskets.
“Our ball defence was the best we’ve played this year,” Severino said. “There were a few lapses, where our help defence maybe wasn’t there, but it’s a step in the right direction.
“They scored off a couple of big offensive rebounds; a couple of times when our help defence let them get some easy ones, and a couple of times when they got behind our defence on fast break. They probably scored 16 to 20 points on those kinds of baskets, but good for us—we eliminated layups against a team like that.
"Hopefully we’ll give ourselves a shot in a bigger game. It certainly gave our team a confidence boost, playing (that well against) such a strong team.”
Stewart knew La Salle would give his team, 6-2 and now winner of six in a row, a better game than the average 2-4 opponent.
“We win games because we are able to out-execute other teams. We don’t win games because we have the best collection of athletes in the league,” he said. “If nothing else, these guys are really good athletes. Kids like Mitch Dowd, and (Mason) Kenehan and (Dan) Walton, who aren’t necessarily big-time basketball players, are athletes.
“Rebounding again was an issue for us tonight. By not rebounding the basketball consistently enough, their athleticism was able to keep them in the game and give them a chance to win with 3.8 seconds left.”
Stewart said he knows how he’d have approached the game, had he been in La Salle’s shoes.
“They would have gone into the game thinking, ‘If we can be close at the start of the fourth quarter and Bayridge gets anxious, anything can happen.’ Well, they were close at the start of the fourth quarter, and at times we looked a little bit anxious, and anything almost happened.”
In other Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association games Thursday afternoon:
• Frontenac Falcons and Sydenham Golden Eagles both remained undefeated, with wins of 60-28 over the Napanee Golden Hawks and 69-32 over the Loyalist Lancers, respectively. After tonight’s Memorial game at Holy Cross, the league will take its annual two-week break for end-of-semester exams, resuming with four games Feb. 3.