By Frank Rizzo
LIBERTY February 23, 2001 The small Monticello lineup answered coach Dick ONeills prayers, overcoming the loss of all the Monties big men to overcome host Liberty on Wednesday night.
Monticello shellacked the Indians 73-49 in its Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) Division III finale.
The win earned the Panthers a sweep of the Indians. On Tuesday, in what was described as an ugly game, Monticello held off its neighbor, 60-52.
It had been an up-and-down week for Monticello. Exactly a week before an inspired Panther squad gave ONeill its 300th career win.
The following night they fell flat, losing to host Cornwall 67-46.
I expected a letdown, but I was disappointed. We became selfish on the court, ONeill said of the game.
Two days later the Monties rebounded to down host Marlboro 65-60 in a non-league game. The Iron Dukes are expected to be one of the favorites in the upcoming Class B tournament in which ONeill figures his Panthers will be third seed.
On Monday afternoon Class A power Newburgh visited Monticellos gym and embarrassed the hosts, 90-65.
Newburgh was a half-step quicker, bigger, and beat us on the boards, ONeill said of the Goldbacks. We did not accept their challenge.
Then came Tuesdays lackluster win over the visiting Indians and a series of problems that bedeviled the coach before Wednesdays game:
he had to suspend his offensive star, center John DeGroat, for disciplinary reasons.
he had to kick starting forward Sammie McGinnis off the team.
backup 6-foot-3 forward Rich Fello was out sick.
backup 6-5 center Devin Brust was out with an injury.
The lineup ONeill put on the floor against Liberty on Wednesday had no one over 6-foot-2.
But 6-1 freshman Geraldo Fernandez, up from the jayvee, and 6-2 Erick Johnson, off the bench, bothered 6-foot-7 Liberty center Travis Emery enough to nullify him.
Point guard Ricky Villegas became Libertys thorn, sinking three three-pointers in the first quarter and four in the opening half as Monticello took a 35-21 lead into the locker room.
Those early threes took Liberty out of the zone, and that was to our advantage, ONeill observed. We think we can match up better with the man defense.
Though Chris Winters gave Liberty hope when he opened the third quarter with a three-pointer, it proved to be short-lasting.
Monticello regained control and never let the Indians get closer than 11 as it won going away.
Getting that early lead took the panic out, took the tentativeness away, ONeill said. Had it been nip-and-tuck there would have been doubt on their part.
It was an outstanding effort, added ONeill, and he singled out Fernandez, whose three three-pointers forced Emery to come out and opened up the lane.
Villegas finished with a career-high 30 points while Chris Robinson scored 16 and Fernandez finished with 12.
Emery led Liberty with 10 and none of then came easily while Winters, Nick Yaun, and Joe Valentin all scored nine.
They outhustled us, beat us down the floor, beat us at every facet of the game, said Liberty coach Ed Riente. We werent organized to run the offense. Our ballhandling skills just arent there. We turned it over too many times and shot horrendously.
Riente lamented the loss earlier this year of veteran point guard Mike Poje, out for the season with a fractured wrist.
We dont have a true point guard and its hurting us, Riente said.
Notes: Riente wondered at how his team nearly knocked off a full-strength Monticello squad the night before, but were easily dispatched Wednesday night by a thin lineup. DeGroat (14), Robinson (13), and Villegas (12) led the Monties in Tuesdays game. Emery scored 17 and Valentin added 13 to pace Liberty.