By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO The first eight minutes of play harmed the Monticello Panthers on Monday night.
The visiting Minisink Valley Warriors jumped out to a 22-2 lead in the opening quarter of the non-league basketball game.
Monticello (2-2) rallied in the second period, however. The Panthers and Warriors each scored 14 points in the frame.
The Panthers then outscored Minisink Valley (3-1) by an 18-12 margin in the third quarter.
Both teams scored 25 points in the fourth quarter as Minisink Valley recorded a 73-59 victory.
“I thought my starters played exceptionally well,” Minisink Valley Coach Dave Osczepinski said. “Johnny Batule shot the ball very well and we made a lot of free throws. We attacked the basket and played pretty good defense.”
The Warriors converted 15 of 16 foul shots (94 percent) in the game. Monticello was 15 of 23 (65 percent) at the free-throw line.
“When the other guys went in, we struggled a little bit,” Osczepinski said. “We’re trying to build up some depth.
“Monticello played very hard, they kept coming at us and made us continue to play hard,” he added.
Minisink Valley’s top scorers were Batule and Garrett Roeber. Batule netted a game-high 26 points, including a trio of successful 3-point shots, and Roeber had 14 points.
Monticello Coach Chris Russo said better days are ahead for the Panthers, but the players have to remind themselves that it’s all about playing as a team, a concept spelled out on their “T.E.A.M. work” plastic wristbands.
“When we don’t play as a team, we’re going to struggle,” he said. “When we don’t compete we’re not very good, but when we do we’re as good as anybody.”
His take on the game?
“We came out flat and never really recovered,” Russo replied. “We made a better effort in the second half, and a couple of kids really stepped up and tried to get us back in the game. But when you’re down 22-to-2 in the first period against a team that shoots the ball as well as they do, especially at the foul line, it’s really difficult to come back.”
Russo singled out Jesse Kapito, Frank Small and Brian Nieto with rising to the challenge of being down by 20 points early in the game.
“Jesse did a really good job in the second half, not only in terms of what he scored, but also in terms of trying to encourage his teammates,” Russo commented. “Frank stepped up, and Brian gave us some good minutes.”
Kenny Sanders Jr. paced the Panthers’ offense with 17 points, while Kapito added 14 points.
Nieto and Small each swished a 3-point shot in the contest.