By Rob Potter
NEW PALTZ March 9, 2007 “The Year” continues for “The Team.”
The Tri-Valley Bears, who for every game this season have stepped onto the basketball court wearing blue T-shirts with the words “The Team” on the front and “The Year” on the back, defeated Section I champion Alexander Hamilton on Wednesday night in a New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Class C Regional game at SUNY New Paltz.
T-V (22-1) took a 14-10 lead at the end of the first quarter and gradually extended that advantage over the next three periods to record a 54-41 victory over Hamilton.
T-V, which is ranked fourth among Class C teams in the latest New York State Sportswriters Association poll, now moves on to the state quarterfinals. The Bears will play Long Island champion Friends Academy at 6 p.m. tonight at SUNY Old Westbury.
Hamilton (13-11) was able to stay close in the early moments of Wednesday night’s game.
With 5:25 remaining in the opening quarter, Hamilton’s Vaquan Wright hit a long jump shot to give his team a 6-5 lead.
T-V regained the lead on a 3-point shot by Dustin Van Lieu and a drive to the hoop for two points by John Merchant. Hamilton tied the score a 10-10 when Jonathan Schofield stole the ball and ran downcourt for a layup with 1:53 left.
But the Bears regained the lead less than 20 seconds later when Fred Moore made a turnaround jumper in the lane.
With 1:05 left in the opening stanza, Michael Kaplan scored to give T-V its aforementioned 14-10 lead.
The Bears stretched that lead to double digits in the second quarter. Van Lieu scored inside the lane thanks to a good pass from Kevin Delaney to give T-V a 22-10 advantage with 4:52 remaining until halftime.
Hamilton closed the gap to seven points twice in the third period, first at 33-26 at the 3:50 mark and then at 35-28 just 32 seconds later.
But T-V quickly restored its double-digit lead.
The Bears gained more momentum heading into the final stanza when William Elbert hit a big shot to end the third period. Following a timeout, T-V had possession with just 2.4 seconds left in the quarter. From halfcourt, Van Lieu inbounded the ball to Elbert, who was standing alone behind the 3-point arc.
Elbert squared up and shot the ball, which fell through the bottom of the net as the buzzer sounded. The basket gave T-V a commanding 45-30 lead and brought the hundreds of T-V fans who filled the bleachers behind the team benches to their feet.
The Bears pushed their advantage to as many as 17 points in the fourth period on their way to the 13-point victory.
A trio of Bears scored in double digits to lead the team to the win. Van Lieu, who swished three 3-pointers during the evening, scored a team-high 17 points. Merchant netted 11 points and Moore recorded 10 points.
Kaplan added six points for the Bears.
Van Lieu made a pair of 3-pointers in the opening quarter to help T-V gain an early advantage.
“That’s one of our team slogans, ‘get on them early,’” he said. “I was feeling good and was able to make those early shots.”
Defense and hustling the entire night also helped the Bears record the victory.
“Hustling the whole game is a Tri-Valley trademark. Working hard and hustle are things that go back to Coach Semo,” said Van Lieu, referring to Jason Semo, who is now the Athletic Director at Liberty Central School but was the Bears’ coach the past several seasons.
“We knew we had to win the game with defense,” Van Lieu continued. “Kevin Delaney, Michael Kaplan and I worked on playing good defense at the top. We had to shut down their big scorers, number 21 [Wright] and number 10 [Jamal Lightbourne]. I think we did a good job on defense tonight.”
T-V Coach Brian Tingley concurred with Van Lieu.
“Defensively, we knew we had to stop number 21 and number 10 and we did that,” he said. “As far as hustling, these guys love to dive on the floor for the ball, especially the seniors because they know that any game now could be their last.”
While noting that his players did a good job, Tingley also thanked the hundreds of fans who traveled from the Grahamsville area.
“They were awesome,” he commented. “It’s one thing when your hometown fans attend the home games, but when they follow you on the road like this it’s really special.”
Hamilton Coach Ural Higgins noted that his team was hurt by mistakes and the Bears’ tenacity.
“We had 15 turnovers in the first half,” he said. “I think Tri-Valley just wanted it more than we did. They were very aggressive.
“Obviously, we knew coming into the game that Tri-Valley is an outstanding team,” Higgins added. “They just seemed to want it more tonight.”