Staples boys cagers beat Darien
Overcoming adversity is a must for a team, especially in its building stages. The Staples boys basketball team, who entered the season in this category, faced two significant hurdles on Tuesday, losing junior guard Luke Yeager to a stomach bug, and overcoming a rough first quarter.
In the end, Staples got over both hurdles in its 65-51 home win over Darien to raise its record to 5-7, 4-6 in the FCIAC. Darien dropped to 1-10, 0-9.
The Blue Wave took a 6-0 lead with 5:02 remaining in the first quarter with senior captain Phillip Stueber (22 points, 10 rebounds, one assist, two blocked shots) hitting three layups. Stueber dominated inside and catapulted Darien to a 28-17 rebounding advantage.
"We didn't have Yeager and we were down in the guard position," Wreckers senior captain Brendan Rankowitz said. "We didn't make our shots in the first quarter but we stepped up out game."
Although the Blue Wave carried play in the opening quarter, they only had a two-point lead after the first eight minutes, 8-6. Staples forced Darien to miss too many shots behind the perimeter defense of juniors Gabe Seidman, Jake Felman, Frankie Bergonzi and Rob DiBartolomeo and classmates Grant Fenton and Andreas Bub (two rebounds) did well defensively in the paint. while Rankowitz (17 points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals) hit five 3-pointers overall, two treys in the quarter.
"I was shooting well in warmups and Frankie, Gabe and Felman got me the ball," Rankowitz said. "Darien's help defense left things wide open for me."
Wreckers Coach Colin Devine said, "Brendan is a great leader and we rallied around him. He set out good energy and we were able to get win."
The Blue Wave made things happen on defense in the early going and did well in transition. Their lead reached six, 12-6 with 6:45 left in the half on senior captain Wes Blummer's (10 points, three rebounds, three assists, two steals) layup.
However, this lead evaporated, starting with Rankowitz swishing another trifecta.
"Rankowitz was on fire," Bergonzi said.
Bergonzi (18 points, one rebound, eight assists, three steals) drove well to the basket for easy layups and ably set up his teammates. His layup off a feed from Seidman (13 points, five assists) gave Staples the lead for good, 15-13 with 4:54 to go in the half.
"They were pressing and aggressive and I knew I had to hurry," Bergonzi said. "I knew I needed to shoot and it went in. Their sagging defense made it easy for me to penetrate and Rankowitz and Gabe were getting open."
The lead ballooned to 11, 28-17 with 1:25 left. Bergonzi hit a layup and set up Rankowitz for an easy two, and Fenton (11 points, seven rebounds, two assists, four steals, one blocked shot) was tough on the glass for the Wreckers and although he's a center, went coast-to-coast for a layup off a steal.
"I was trying to pick up the team because Yeager was out and it started with defense and boxing out," Fenton said.
Darien fought back and cut it to six at the break, 28-22, with Stueber hitting a 3-point play and blocking a shot and Blummer nailing a layup. The Blue Wave pulled within two, 30-28 with 5:52 left in the third quarter and their press was effective as it forced 14 turnovers.
Conversely, Staples forced 23 turnovers, which was Darien's undoing. The Wreckers then put the Blue Wave away with a 13-0 run to take a commanding 43-28 lead with 2:20 to go. Bergonzi had eight points during this surge, mostly off nice fake moves, including a coast-to-coast layup off a steal. He also set up Rankowitz for a trey early in the rally, which spurred the Wreckers on.
Fenton did the rest, including a nice feed to set up Bergonzi's layup to open the spurt at 32-28. Fenton then scored on a putback off the offensive glass and the aforementioned coast-to-coast layup off a steal.
Felman (four points, three rebounds, two assists, three steals) was scrappy on defense and drew a charge.
"The key is playing team defense and when they get down low, they are aggressive and angry and it's easy to take a charge," Felman said.
DiBartolomeo (two points, one rebound, one assist) hit a jump shot and played well on defense. Sophomore Mike Argosh blocked a shot.
"The guys played hard and smart and I expect it of them," Devine said.
Rankowitz said, "It's a good team win. Some kids stepped it up. Rob DiBartolomeo played a great game and helped us in the backcourt."