Friday, January 10, 2014

No Laughing Matter, Panthers Head Into Rye Undefeated

Rye Neck was once one of Section I stomping mats, a disgruntled and disinterested Class C cellar dweller in an ultra-weak conference.

The Panthers were once the team you knew to get your points against early… making room for the 12th man, the 13th man, even the mascot and the waterboy to get their minutes in.

That, of course, was a long time ago.

The program has undergone a seismic shift, ascending the food chain and opening eyes in the process.

 A core of duds have morphed into studs, injecting a pulse into a building once as left-for-dead as foreclosed home.

A basketball transfiguration has taken place at Rye Neck High, which now yields a hoops seed at the football frenzied school.

The Panthers have emerged into the County’s elite, boasting an 8-0 record following a 29-point slaying of lowly Port Chester.

For eons, Section I has been a land of haves and have-nots.

Few teams outside of Mount Vernon, Peekskill, White Plains, and Kennedy-Catholic (under Tom Nelligan’s reign) have authored and sustained prosperity through the daunting test of time.

 Several programs have been dominant during a particular era, piling up wins and launching players to four-year NCAA careers.

 Many of these programs, however, have been vulnerable to an unforgiving clock that strikes midnight on nearly every top-tier team's ceiling.

No matter how memorable the legacy, good things only last so long. Programs rebuild, reload, start from the bottom, and labor through crumbling and exasperating down seasons.

Defending a potent streak of success can be an arduous task, especially when you consider the passing of an era.

Especially when you consider graduation, transfers, new staffs coming in, old staffs being bidding adieu. Ascending Section I mountaintops, at a perennial pace, isn’t an exact science.

Few from shambles-to-sugar stories tell quite like Rye Neck’s. The Panthers have revitalized the culture. A core of several multi-sport athletes, a team containing nine seniors have etched a County Center berth has a viable aspiration.

The Panthers are buoyed by a prolific scorer in Ryan Aquino, who decimated Irvington for seven 3-pointers en route to a game-high 28 points and a 60-55 win.

 Aquino and teammate Chris Pennel are both pivotal shooters, lethal when the hot hand is developed.

Forward Matt Franks continues to stake his claim as a reliable double-double threats.

Franks provided sheer hustle plays for HUDSON VALLEY during the 2013 BCANY tournament.

With a small frontline and a guard-laden team, Franks' size and ability to be active on the glass had immediate appeal to Hudson Valley coach Bill Thom. HV earned a berth in the tournament championship, ultimately falling to an Adirondack team loaded with mid-major Division-I recruits.

 Franks scored 11 points and ripped down nine rebounds during the Panthers' 47-37 win over formidable League 3-C foe Valhalla last week.

Angelo Spedafino, another leg of the growing scoring triumvirate alongside Franks and Aquino, has shown promise.

Spedafino was the energizer propelling the Panthers to a 78-59 win over Hamilton.

  He turned in a 22-point, 10-board performance,  one which had the Panther Pride buzzing. Workmanlike Franks emerged with an identical stat line, scoring 22 points and snatching 10 rebounds as a stabilizing force in the frontline.

How good is this Rye Neck team?

Tomorrow’s game against Rye will certainly gauge that.

How reliable is this Rye Neck team, going down the bench?

Look no further than the aforementioned Valhalla win. 

During a man-down situation against Valhalla, nobody was pressing the panic button. 

Backup point guard Jake Sevean filled in for injury-bitten starter Pennel (wrist). The junior doled out five assists to zero turnovers.  

Of course, Rye Neck does not win that game without the late-game poise of Chris Cascione (eight points, 13 boards), who buried a pivotal jumper and came up with a key steal to ward off the Vikings.

 Remember, it is still only January. Rye Neck knows they won't change the world by the weekend.

The league commissioner won't be handing out any trophies, cool points, or hanging any banners in the Panthers' gym.

 Plenty of basketball remains to be played.

With a steadfast, one-game-at-a-time focus, the goal is to crack open the doors to the County Center.

That would be righteous.