Roxbury hoops story

By John Bernhardt
Everything has to fall in place perfectly to move forward in New York State basketball tournament play. From the onset, things just didn’t fall Roxbury’s way Saturday night at SUNY Cortland. The Rockets’ season came to a close as they dropped a hard fought, 51-39, decision to Section III champion Sackets Harbor.

testing imageThe first signs of trouble were minor. A stack of programs greeted fans at the ticket table as you entered the hallway of the SUNY sports complex. Buying their tickets, fans looked down at a spiffy picture of the Section III champion, Sackets Harbor team. The Sackets’ page included an attractive border and a fact box with interesting information about the folks associated with the Patriots’ program. A turn of the page to the Roxbury side showed a plain page, no picture, lots of white space, and a list of the players on the Rockets’ roster.

Minor aggravations continued as the teams took the floor. According to instructions, the highest bracketed team was to wear home uniforms. Roxbury represented the top bracket and entered the gymnasium donned in their home “whites.” Yet, at the start of the game, the public address announcer informed the crowd, the Rockets would be the visitors and the dark uniformed Patriots the home team on the scoreboard clocks.

Next, a small hassle over the game ball took place. At the Section III championship tournament, the Rockets were provided a particular ball and told that brand would be used in state tournament play. Naturally, the Rockets prepared using the same model. But, at game time, no one seemed to know how to handle game ball selection. Tournament officials selected the game ball from the rack of practice balls used by the SUNY Cortland team.

Electric atmosphere

Roxbury RocketsThe most costly decisions for Roxbury occurred almost immediately on the court. With huge cheering sections for both teams urging on their teams the atmosphere was electric at the start of the game. Roxbury started strong. Ryan Skipper fed Steven Hubbard with a pass at the block, and Hubbard nailed an inside jumper for the first score of the game.

On the Patriots’ first possession, Hubbard blocked a Jordan Montrois baseline jumper with the ball falling out of bounds. After a missed outside shot, Sackets Harbor guard Jake Simmons grabbed a long rebound, took one dribble, and netted a soft jumper to tie the score at 2-2.

An impressive eight-pass-offensive sequence resulted in a three-point goal as Lucas Brewer hit DaVaun Morgan beyond the arch on the right-hand side. Leading 5-2, the Rockets seemed poised to make an early stand. Roxbury’s defense forced a turnover, and Hubbard converted a hard lay-up on the offensive end, but an offensive foul call nullified the score.
After two more defensive stops, the Rockets drove hard to the basket once again. This time, Ryan Skipper’s knifing drive to the hoop was canceled on a second charging violation. Roxbury continued their early assault talking a 7-2 lead when Morgan pulled down an offensive rebound, shuffled a pass to Skipper who fed Andrew Camillone for an inside banker. But, the two charging violations seemed to work against the Rockets psychologically. After the second call, the Rockets, who built their 20-game winning streak around hard penetration to the basket, seemed hesitant to take the ball aggressively to the hoop the rest of the way. The lost baskets were two of four taken away from the orange and black throughout the evening.
But, make no mistake about it, Sackets Harbor fielded a powerful team. The Rockets felt the first blast of a gifted Patriot trio of guards when, with Rockets fans howling for a traveling violation, Sackets all-time scoring leader, senior Nick D’Alessandro, drove down the left lane, came to a flying two-foot jump stop and took a giant step toward the basket for a score.
Sophomore Gage LeClair followed with a scoring drive from the right wing and then nailed a long three-point goal from the opposite wing. With 1:50 left in the quarter, the Patriots were in front, 9-7
A high Morgan pass over the defense found Camillone free on the inside to knot the score at 9-9. Skipper found Lucas Brewer on the left wing for a three-point goal with under a minute left and the period ended with the Rockets in front, 12-9.
Although Roxbury held the early lead, two factors foretold trouble for the Rockets. With 53 second to play in the opening frame Ryan Skipper was whistled for a third foul reaching for the ball deep in the backcourt. Without Skipper on the floor, Sackets Harbor took command of the game during the second quarter.
The second sign, a disturbing pattern, occurred at the foul line. The usually sure handed Rockets missed all four foul shots awarded during the opening eight minutes. That pattern would become a major liability, hampering Roxbury’s comeback attempts later in the game. The Rockets finished making only four of 14 shots from the charity stripe.
Dynamic guard play saw Sackets Harbor dominate the second quarter. D’Alessandro, used a one-dribble jumper from the left wing to start a 12-point Patriot run. Simmons penetrated the right lane on a fast break and dished back to D’Alessandro trailing for a textbook three-point goal pushing the Patriots on top, 14-12.
A gorgeous, twisting reverse lay-up from behind the Roxbury backboard by Morgan was taken away on a travel call. Strong interior play yielded two Sackets buckets when Jordan Montrois and LeClair put back offensive rebounds for scores. Simmons used dribble penetration to find D’Alessandro open again behind the arch, and the sharpshooter’s bomb extended the Patriot advantage to 21-12.
Sensing things slipping away, Roxbury coach Tom Faraci reinserted Skipper, but the damage was done. The Rockets’ guard swished two foul shots in front of another Sackets three-point blast, this one by LeClair. Morgan found Camillone cutting for a left-handed lay-up for Roxbury, but Derek Sweitzer pulled down a missed three-point attempt and put back a Patriot score. The half ended with Sackets in front, 26-16.
Two fast break baskets at the start of the second half gave Sackets the biggest lead of the night, 30-16. Roxbury countered quickly using a Skipper score on and out of bounds play, one of two Skipper foul shots, and a Camillone three-point goal to melt the lead down to under 10, at 30-22.
The offensive pace turned furious as the teams traded baskets over the next several minutes. Sackets netted two foul shots, before Skipper finished an exciting spinning, pumping lay-up a score. The Patriots’ Craig Rodgers drove the baseline, but Skipper nailed a trey drawing Roxbury one point closer at 34-27.
D’Alessandro answered with a one-dribble jump shot for Sackets. Roxbury responded when Morgan turned a baseline drive into an assist finding Camillone cutting down the outside lane for a lay-up.
A Simmons jumper and a Rodgers’ offensive rebound score stretched the Sackets lead to 11 points, but Roxbury ended the quarter on a high note when Hubbard found Morgan for an inside shake-and-bake basket, and the sophomore later dished off to Camillone for yet another lay-up. Sackets’ led at the quarter break, 40-33.
Ryan Skipper’s defensive rebound and long pass off the dribble to a cutting Morgan electrified the Roxbury crowd early in the final frame. Roxbury had whittled the lead down to five, 40-35. That enthusiasm ebbed when after a Rockets defensive stop, a traveling violation disallowed Skipper’s driving score.
D’Alessandro was the difference maker down the stretch for Sackets. The steady senior used an offensive rebound and a driving bucket to create added space from the charging Rockets. Sackets defense stiffened, and the Patriots last seven points came at the charity stripe with D’Alessandro netting four foul shots. The Sackets senior also hauled down five defensive rebounds during the pivotal period. The final horn ended as Sackets advanced to the final four, while Roxbury’s 20-game win streak and magnificent season grinded to a stop.
“I thought our guys finished the season with the same hard nosed basketball, the same level of intensity they have put forward throughout the year,” praised coach Tom Faraci. “We showed great effort and kept our composure well. I think our fans appreciated the fact that we conducted ourselves like champions to the very end.”
When looking back at the Rockets’ season, Faraci marveled at the growth and maturity of his team. Faraci’s charges started slowly going 1-2 in their first three games and then ran together a remarkable 20-game winning streak. “I don’t know if we had the five best shooters or the five best defenders,” emphasized Faraci, “but these guys came to play. They played with heart, were unselfish with the ball, and always took a stand, lifting each other up whenever we were down.”
Faraci threw a final thanks to the Roxbury fans. “Our fans were just awesome all season long. Our support, our community, the extended community, they were there for us every step of the way.”