By Eli Ruiz
January 8 Sullivan West was able to withstand an early fourth quarter run and leveraged 10 of 11 shooting from the free throw line, as well as a strong return by sophomore Ronj Padu, to eke out a 54-50 victory over cross-county rival Monticello in a non-league contest Friday night.
It was the second year in a row that Class B Sullivan West defeated Class A Monticello in the 17B showdown.
Padu who had been out since suffering a concussion in the second game of the season against Livingston Manor led his team with 14 points in the game. He picked up the scoring usually provided by sharpshooting senior Matt Cardona, who was held in check most of the evening by Monti defenders.
“I have to give them credit, they did shut Matt down tonight but we’re much deeper than just one player,” said Sullivan West coach Bruce Nober. “I hope we proved that tonight.”
Nober added, “Matt does a lot of small things that helps keep us in games like playing very good defense and rebounding. He [Cardona] also made that big shot and the two free throws in the final moments of the game. Those four points were the difference, but Monticello did do a great job of not letting Matt get his shots off.”
Regarding Padu, Nober said, “Ronj makes us a much deeper team. He’s got incredible instincts and athletic ability. He certainly didn’t play like a sophomore on Friday night.”
Sullivan West (4-1, 1-1) led from the opening tip and never relinquisjed it. A hard drive inside by Cardona gave the Bulldogs a 12-5 advantage with 2:30 left in the opening quarter but in the closing seconds Rob Riley’s put-back of a missed Daeshaun Thompson shot narrowed the Panther deficit to 14-11 after a quarter of play.
In a sloppily played second quarter, Brian Stauch scored the Bulldogs’ first points of the quarter more than three minutes in. Sullivan West increased their lead to 23-16 as Monticello couldn’t muster any offense.
“I told my guys at the half to be prepared, that teams go on runs,” said Nober. “We need-ed to be ready to weather the storm, stick with the game plan while making just a few adjustments.”
Both teams would commit their share of turnovers in a quick-paced third quarter. Rob Riley who with Daeshaun Thompson led the Monties with 17 points opened the third quarter with a layup.
It seemd as though Monticello coach Chris Russo’s halftime message was for his team to be more aggressive on the offensive end. And feed Riley the ball.
Though Riley scored nine points in the third quarter to keep inching Monticello closer, Sullivan West would answer with some timely three by Kyle Manzi and Padu. The Bulldogs maintained their seven-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Thompson keyed a 6-0 run to open the quarter with one of his patented high-arching three pointers to bring Monticello within one. After a Sullivan West timeout, Manzi hit his second three of the game to put Sullivan West up by four again to begin a back and forth trading of baskets.
Thompson answered back on the other end with an aggressive drive for two, but Sawyer Erlwein complete a three-point play on a tough drive to the basket to put Sullivan- West up 48-43.
Monticello would cut into the lead once again, closing to within 52-50 with just 20 seconds remaining in the game, but a foul on Cardona in the closing seconds, and his two clutch free throws would be the clincher.
“Our game-plan going in was to pressure their guards and not let them make easy entry passes down to Riley and those guys,” said Nober. “We felt comfortable that if we could win down low and put ball pressure on their guards we’d be in good shape.
Sullivan West improved to 4-1 and travels to division rival James I. O'Neill Thursday.
“It’s a huge game,” said Nober. “Should be a fun test you know. They beat us on our court and hopefully we can give them all they can handle down there.”