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A Bitter End

Democrat Photo by Frank Rizzo

RICHIE FELLO OF Monticello slips past Cornwall defender Sean Kramer for two points early in Wednesday’s Class B quarterfinal.

Monties Ousted by Cornwall

By Frank Rizzo
MONTICELLO — March 2, 2001 – Just another great basketball game — with all the clichés that implies.
“It was a shame someone had to lose this one,” Cornwall coach Tom Howe said after his Green Dragons upended host Monticello 78-75 in overtime Wednesday night.
Sixth-seeded Cornwall (14–7) put an end to third-seeded Monticello’s (14–6) season in the Class B quarterfinal.
“My mind is loaded with clichés right now,” reflected Monticello coach Dick O’Neill in his office. He was commiserating with SUNY-Potsdam men’s basketball coach Billy Mitchell, in the area on a recruiting trip.
“I’m glad to be a part of a game like this, but the loss tears your guts out,” O’Neill said. “You can’t come in tomorrow in practice and fix what your team is doing wrong.
“It was a great game… we went out on our shields, carried off the field like warriors of old,” he added.
“There is a finality to a [playoff loss],” agreed Mitchell, who was to spend the night at O’Neill’s house. “You go home and second guess yourself. It does tear your guts out.”
This was the third meeting between the rivals. Monticello won the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) Division III first round game 72-66 at home on January 16. Nearly a month later the host Green Dragons got their revenge, 67-46.
In the quarterfinal the Panthers started off strong, quickly building a 12-2 lead.
“Any other team, with our early run, with our crowd rocking, would have folded,” O’Neill noted. “But Tom’s a smart coach. He called timeouts, and went to [Mike] Early.”
Early proved to be a thorn, scoring six first quarter points and helping the Green Dragons assume dominance on the boards and around the net.
By quarter’s end the Monties’ lead had shrunk to 23-19.
Monticello offensive leader John DeGroat drew his second foul and missed the last 5:45 of the second quarter, but the Panthers held on to take a 39-36 lead into the break.
The third quarter featured seven lead changes and seven ties as neither team could gain daylight.
Five more lead changes followed in the final quarter.
With just over 1:40 left, Cornwall’s Ryan Peters threaded the lane to give the Green Dragons their biggest lead of the game, 69-64.
One minute later Chris Robinson floated through the paint for a bucket to cut the margin to 69-66.

Robinson then tipped away a Cornwall pass and it wound up in Ricky Villegas’ hands. The Panther point guard drained his fourth three-pointer of the game, with 27 seconds left, to knot the score.
At the Cornwall end DeGroat fouled Early on the floor. Cornwall inbounded the ball and Robinson had a chance to steal it, with clear sailing to his net.
However, in what turned out to be a series of frustrating fumbles and miscues that afflicted Monties in the second half, the forward lost the ball and Cornwall’s Sean Kramer got a shot off at the buzzer — and missed.
Overtime turned out to be the “Ricky and Matt Show” as Monticello’s Villegas and Cornwall’s Callihan both sank a pair of three-pointers.
Villegas’ second trey gave the Monties their last lead, 75-72, with 1:27 left. Callihan’s second tie the game with :40 left in the OT.
Robinson, who had nettled Cornwall for 12 first half points (nine in the opening quarter), attempted one of his trademark penetrations, but missed — part of a subpar second half in which he netted just four points. He then fouled Phil Missere going for the loose ball.
Missere sank both free throws with 20 seconds left.
Robinson again missed on a drive, Monticello’s last gasp.
Mike D’Agostino’s free throw with one second left closed out the scoring.
“Coach O’Neill and I looked at each other when it went into overtime and said, ‘Wow, isn’t this a great game?’ We’ve had a lot of great battles over the years,” Howe noted.
Perhaps the key stat of the game was Cornwall’s rebounding dominance: a 45-24 edge.
Villegas led Monticello with 29, finishing with five three-pointers. Robinson finished with 17 and DeGroat, who fouled out early in the overtime, had 14. Richie Fello contributed eight. Phil Stewart had six assists while Fello had five.
Early (23) and Callahan (21) led Cornwall, which faces No. 2 James I. O’Neill tonight in a semifinal.
O’Neill, mindful that he has most of his talent back next year, said he told his charges, “I wish [next season] would start tomorrow.”
But he’ll be just as happy when he can hit the links. An avid duffer, O’Neill also coaches the Monticello golf team.

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