By Rob Potter
MONTICELLO March 3, 2006 The Wallkill Panthers advanced in the Section IX Class A Tournament on Monday night.
But it wasnt easy.
During a quarterfinal game versus the Monticello Panthers, sixth-seeded Wallkill overcame Monticellos home court advantage to reach the semifinal round.
As the large crowd looked on, Wallkill edged Monticello, 61-58, in a contest where neither team could maintain a lead of more than eight points.
Wallkill (11-10) had that eight-point advantage (14-6) midway through the opening quarter. But Monticello (13-8) responded with a 9-0 scoring run to hold a 15-14 lead at the end of the stanza.
The teams entered halftime tied at 25-25.
Two baskets by senior guard Brad Cooper a 3-point shot and a shot closer to the hoop in the final 40 seconds of the third period gave the Monties a 39-37 advantage heading into the final eight minutes of play.
After the score was tied four times in the first five minutes of the fourth period, Wallkill took the lead for good when Rob Gomez cut along the baseline and scored a layup. The basket gave the visitors a 53-51 advantage with 2:25 remaining.
About 40 seconds later, Monticello junior center Mike Normann scored inside to close the Wallkill lead to 55-53.
A minute later, Wallkill held a 57-54 advantage when Gomez was fouled and and went to the free-throw line for a 1-and-1 situation. He missed the first shot, but teammate R.J. Ponesse got great position in the lane, grabbed the rebound and put the ball back up and through the net. Ponesses basket gave Wallkill a 59-54 lead with just 41 seconds remaining.
Junior forward Tyrone White scored twice for Monticello within a 20-second span to pull the home team to within two (60-58) with five seconds left.
With one second displayed on the scoreboard, Wallkills Jeff Wiegmann made a free throw to push his teams advantage to 61-58.
Monticello had a final chance to tie the game and send it into overtime, but Coopers desperation 3-pointer from near the Wallkill 3-point line fell short of the Monties basket at the other end of the floor as the buzzer sounded.
Im very pleased, Wallkill Coach Kevin Bach said. Our team has been up and down this season. But we were ready to play tonight.
Bach, who served as the Assistant Coach to longtime Monticello Coach Dick ONeill when ONeill was the Head Coach at John S. Burke Catholic School in Goshen several years ago, noted that the games between the teams guided by the two veteran coaches always seem to be close.
Bach also praised R.J. Ponesse and his cousin V.J. Ponesse for their performances. The coach said that R.J. did a great job on the boards and V.J. played great defense against Brad Cooper.
V.J. Ponesse, with some help from his teammates, limited Cooper to 13 points.
Gomez paced the Wallkill offense by scoring a game-high 22 points. Wiegmann finished with 16 points, R.J. Ponesse added 14 points and V.J. Ponesse netted eight points.
Normann was Monticellos leading scorer with 18 points and White added 17 points. White grabbed a team-best 10 rebounds and Normann had nine boards.
Cooper dished out six assists.
Monti senior guard Mike Washington had six points, thanks to a pair of successful 3-point shots.
ONeill said that he got a feeling prior to the contest that his team just didnt have that [competitive] fire.
We had a lack of defensive intensity, ONeill commented. We let them dictate [the game] to us instead of dictating to them.
The veteran coach thanked his senior tri-captains Cooper, Eric Walker and Washington for their leadership and performance this year.
They did a great job, he said. This whole team is made up of a great bunch of kids. Im glad they were all part of my life this season.