By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO Sometimes it takes more than heart, desire and hustle to win a high school basketball game.
Sometimes a team must endure tough defeats in order to gain the experience needed to rebound and get back on the winning track.
On Monday night, the host Monticello Panthers closed out their 2008-2009 season with a 90-70 loss to the Cornwall Dragons in an Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) Division III game.
It was the 10th consecutive loss for Monticello, which ended the season with an overall record of 5-15 and a 1-5 record in Div. III.
While the Panthers took to the floor with victory in their sights, it eluded them in the end as they ran out of steam in the third quarter. Cornwall (17-3, 6-0 Div. III) held a 70-50 lead at the end of that period.
Cornwall jumped out to a lead in the first period, but Monticello bounced back briefly with a bucket by Devon Mathis to shave the Dragons’ advantage to one point (14-13).
At the close of the quarter, the Dragons were back in the driver’s seat by five points at 19-14.
Cornwall pushed its advantage to 37-28 at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Panthers gave it their all.
Austin Billig nailed a 3-pointer to close the Monties’ deficit to 46-40. Moments later, Billig passed the ball to Shamell Moore, who swished a 3-pointer to make it a 46-43 game.
The Dragons’ returned fire-for-fire with some quick shooting of their own and extended their lead to 20 points heading to the final eight minutes of play.
Leading Cornwall to victory were Kyle Bradley, who scored 23 points, Harrison Larkin, who netted 21 points, and Kevin Arduione, who added 15 points.
“I thought Monticello played with a lot of heart,” Cornwall Coach Tom Howe said. “They played really, really hard with a lot of enthusiasm. They gave us a run for the money in the third period, but we were able to stretch out the lead.”
Devon Mathis scored a game-high 25 points for Monticello.
Moore and Briar Patterson added 18 points and 11 points, respectively, for the Panthers.
Monticello Coach Chris Russo said his team didn’t finish where they’d hoped, but “we’re better than our record shows.
“We lost a few games that slipped away from us, games that we could have won,” he said.
Before dropping 10 games in a row, the Panthers turned a few heads by defeating Liberty in overtime and then posting a surprise victory over Sullivan West.
Monticello will lose two seniors Mathis and Tyler Hutchens to graduation in June. But Russo expects 11 players to return next season.
“Devon [Mathis] was out for about 12 games because of an injury, but he came back and gave us a real positive lift,” Russo said.
“When you have a young team and you’re struggling, it’s really difficult for them to not have doubts start to creep in. I’m proud of the group of guys that I coached, they did everything I asked for. Their effort was outstanding all year.”