Air Bears

Tri-Valley’s flying circus runs rings around rebuilding Falcons


GRAHAMSVILLE, NY - The electricity was already measuring off the scale on the excitement meter in the Tri-Valley gym on December 19. It had been amped up by the Bears’ first-half, high-voltage performance against The Family School.

But then the juiced home crowd was jolted beyond jubilation as John Merchant broke loose midway in the third quarter on his way to what the crowd anticipated as his long-awaited dunk.

But emblematic of a team that exudes unselfishness, Merchant looked out of the corner of his eye to see Fred Moore trailing the play. Merchant pitched the ball skyward toward the glass and Moore slammed it down as the place went haywire.

Although there were still many minutes left to play in the game, that latest feat of aerial acrobatics by the M&M boys served as the evening’s highlight in the circus-like atmosphere that has become part and parcel of Bear Country this season.

From the game’s opening tip and the subsequent quick basket by Merchant, followed by a steal and layup by Dustin VanLieu, the Bears came out on fire to send a message to The Family School that this is Tri-Valley’s year, just like their warm ups say.

Last year belonged to the Class D Falcons, who had their greatest triumph with their electrifying win over Chapel Field in the Section IX final. But coach Ted Towsley lost his entire squad of talented firebrands to graduation. Consequently, this is a rebuilding year and this game was truly a trial by fire.

Although The Family School ended up on the wrong end of this one-sided 70-36 loss, don’t be surprised to see the Falcons soaring when the Class D wars are raging as the season unfolds in January and February.

But on this night, it was another spine-tingling affair for the hometown Grahamsville Crazies, who came out in droves to ogle their team that is proving itself to be something truly special. No wonder the crowd is so juiced.

The Bears got out to an early 11-2 lead behind the elevated play of Merchant, Moore and VanLieu. The fledgling Falcons fought back with four points from the team’s high scorer of the night, Chris Durand, and contributions from Andreas Petrou and Marcellus Johnson brought Family closer at 13-8 as the first frame ended.

But the Air Bears were just getting ready to lift off. The M&Ms sweetened the crowd’s appetite with an 8-0 run that quickly burgeoned into a 12-3 chasm, widened by great defense that caused six The Family School turnovers. Already dazed by the early second-quarter blitz, the crowd went into sugar shock as Dustin VanLieu added the sweetness of a pair of threes to give Tri-Valley a 35-18 break by the half by virtue of outscoring the Family Falcons 22-10 in the frame.

Meanwhile, Tri-Valley Coach Brian Tingley had freely subbed in all of his players, figuring to give his starters a much-needed rest from the torrid pace, just in case he needed them later in the game. They weren’t done playing by any means, but even with the subs in, the Bears never lost altitude. The remarkable thing about Tri-Valley is that it actually has two teams: this year’s and next. When the subs come in, they see it as their moment to shine. As a result, the team rarely loses a beat as Tingley’s 12-deep team plays strong right down to the last man.

The third quarter witnessed a repeat of the 22-10 margin of the previous quarter, accented as mentioned by the ESPN-worthy moment of Merchant and Moore.

Kevin Delaney added his own flavor to the Bears’ tasty treat with a couple of steals and a bucket. Michael Kaplan spiced it up as well with four points of his own. Moore led the attack in the third with six points.

The Family School got six of its 10 third-quarter points from Durand.

The fourth quarter belonged mostly to Tri-Valley’s surging subs, including Kevin Drown and Kaplan, who had four each, and the return of starter William Elberth, who twisted and turned in the lane, showing his own brand of acrobatic mastery. Elberth added four points. Merchant led all scorers with 19 points. Moore had 14. Durand led The Family School scorers with 13 points on the night.

The Family School (1-3), which added this loss to those suffered against Honesdale, PA and Milford, NY have their one win against Roscoe. That victory makes them 1-0 in Class D and that is what will ultimately matter.

Towsley was matter-of-fact about the loss. “We’re a young team. I thought we played well in the first quarter, but they made adjustments and we didn’t do what we needed to do.” Included in that was The Family School’s inability to finish on lay ups and easy shots close in.

“We’ve got a lot of kids that have never played this kind of competitive basketball before. We’re going to get better,” he concluded as he anticipated the coming frays against Livingston Manor, Chapel Field, S.S. Seward, Eldred and Roscoe.

Tingley’s team accomplished most of its pre-game goals, including holding their opponent to under 40 points and getting at least 14 points on breaks. Game statistics will evince that they made their third stated intention of having more assists than turnovers, but fell short of supremacy on the foul line, hitting five of 10, as compared to the Falcons’ 10 of 19.

Coming off an impressive league win over Chester, with its big men Max Laing and Guerino Saint Pierre, who they held to a combined 23 points, Tri-Valley proved it could handle good shooters.

Ultimately, Tingley’s 12 show great chemistry, unselfish play, a tremendous work ethic and a belief in themselves and their coach, and have what it takes to be a team that is truly electric.

TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Tri-Valley’s electrifying John Merchant elevates over The Family School’s Chris Boehmer for two points. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Tri-Valley’s Dustin VanLieu, below left, goes up for a quick two off an early steal. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Marcellus Johnson, left, of The Family School brings the ball up the floor and is guarded by Dustin VanLieu. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
The Family School’s cadre of talented cheerleaders urges their team on. (Click for larger version)