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Basketball

Lincoln Memorial

Senior Night fervor, Rosa’s triple double and Burke’s thrashing mark Lincoln’s 200th birthday

By RICHARD A. ROSS

LAKE HUNTINGTON, NY — It wasn’t fourscore and seven years ago that Sullivan West last defeated John S. Burke Catholic in boys basketball, though it certainly feels that way.

It was 2005. The Bulldogs beat Burke once that year, and lost to them thrice.

But after it was ruled that Burke had used an ineligible player, Sullivan West was accorded all four wins, the Division IV and the Section Nine titles, more than a year after the fact.

But for the Sullivan West players, who took to the floor on Senior Night, February 12, a victory against their nemesis had never been a part of their personal hardwood history.

To the contrary, like the Union army in the early years of the Civil War, they had experienced only bitter defeats at the hands of their adversaries. Thrashings of 88-34 and 78-56 a year ago, and this year’s brutal 86-40 sundering in the Eagles’ aerie, were analogs to Union army defeats at Bull Run, Chancellorsville and Fredricksburg.

Bloody, painful and humiliating.

But those dark days fueled a desire to battle back and to ultimately prevail at all costs.

The North did just that at Gettysburg, withstanding Pickett’s Charge and turning the tide of the war toward eventual victory. The enormous sacrifices rendered there inspired Lincoln’s iconic address, which, in turn, enlivened the North to fight on and ultimately succeed.

Lincoln is very much on peoples’ minds these days. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just a few weeks ago, music and oratory signaled the winds of change and hope for better days to come on the eve of President Obama’s inauguration.

Aptly, on Lincoln’s 200th birthday, Sullivan West stirred its own winds of change, reversing an inglorious history against Burke with a commanding 68-56 win.

In so doing, Sullivan West handed Burke its only division loss to date. Burke had dispatched all of its division foes and many larger schools along the way, and even without standout senior Sean Cooper, who was making a college visit to Pace University, and the still injured Dante Cowart, the Eagles figured to be a daunting adversary.

But Goliath was about to encounter David, aka R.J. Rosa.

The fiery junior would unleash a triple double with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, as he and his senior henchmen played a game for the ages, one they hope, like Gettysburg, will be an augur of future success in the coming sectionals for which they have already qualified.

Sullivan West’s elder statesmen Brad Reimer, Justin Armstrong, James Spruill, Dan Figueroa and Harold Smith, along with senior cheerleaders April Drake and Victoria Tyles, were honored in the pre-game ceremony.

Sullivan West started all of its seniors and Reimer controlled the tip, but Burke scored first on a free throw from Vinny Yates. Figueroa gave the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead. Inconceivably, Sullivan West would never trail again.

Rosa entered a minute in and the complexion of the game was immediately altered. His first shot was a ringing three pointer. By night’s end, he had five of those. In the high intensity play, both teams got steals as Sullivan West forced 10 Burke turnovers in the first quarter, while committing seven of its own.

A Rosa steal and dish to Figueroa saw the lead burgeon to 7-1. Burke fought back to 7-4, but back-to-back threes from Rosa and Figueroa and a bucket at the buzzer by Armstrong afforded the Bulldogs a 15-5 lead at the end of the first period.

The stoked crowd was really feeling it.

Reimer’s first points were two from the stripe. In the give and take, Burke got buckets from Yates, Kadiem Jacklyn, Dennis Leahy and Brian Clark and the Dawgs countered with a Spruill jumper and one by Rosa. Burke edged closer at 21-15, helped by Sullivan West’s poor foul shooting. The Dawgs missed the front end of three one and ones and shot only three for eight in the first half.

Reimer blocked a shot and Rosa fired in his third trey, jumped the passing lane for a steal, dove to get his own rebound and put it back in. Sullivan West led 27-17 lead at the half.

Burke upped its pressure with three men in the front court. The tactic that works so well on their smaller home floor was working, though Sullivan West Coach Cliff Kelly kept stressing not to make flat passes that would lead to turnovers and Eagle lay ups reminiscent of the first encounter.

Burke cut the margin to six but Rosa reloaded the slingshot and fired another three-point rock. Reimer and Spruill did the same for a 9-0 run.

Onlookers couldn’t believe their eyes.

Matt Cooney hit two from the stripe for Burke but Spruill canned another bucket. Figueroa added a three to bring the downtown total to five for the quarter. Burke tried to keep pace and scored seven buckets in the quarter but nary a three would go down.

Sullivan West led 51-35 heading into the final frame.

Burke scored first but another Rosa three made it 54-37. Burke coach Doug Janeczko was called for a technical foul and Reimer hit both free throws to stretch the lead to 19 points. On the next play, he raced back to slam a shot by Matt Cooney against the backboard but officials called him for a foul.

The fans extolled his energy, as the din in the Dawg Pound grew louder than it’s been in years.

Burke never quit but it could not keep pace with Sullivan West’s incendiary shooting. Spruill hit his second downtowner for the 21-point lead, the largest of the night. With 2:56 to go, the rabid Dawgs led 63-42.

After Figueroa fouled out, he was the subject of voluminous accolades from his adoring fans.

Burke fouled to slow the inevitable. Making free throws and a few late buckets, they cut the final margin as the Westies hugged each other in the rising din following the 68-56 epic win.

“They outplayed us from start to finish,” said Janezcko. “They got loose balls. They hit shots and Rosa buried us. They wanted it more than we did.”

Asked if he felt this would serve as a wake-up call, Janeczko said, “You’re never standing still. Either you’re getting better or you’re getting worse. They obviously got a lot better since we played them last time. Now it remains to be seen how we’ll respond.”

Liberty coach Jason Semo was scouting Burke for the second straight night. Liberty hosts Burke at home on February 18 and must win to get to sectionals. “Same thing,” said Janezcko, referring to the intensity with which Sullivan West came to play, “only Liberty needs it even more.”

Kelly was delighted with his first Burke win. He was assistant coach when his son Sean and the rest of the 2005 team last won. “It’s a great rivalry. Even though it’s hard to find a way to win, you like to play them. You practice harder and at times, like tonight, you see the result. We were better prepared for Burke’s physical style of play than they were in the game down there. You forget,” he said. “We made a lot of flat passes and gave them lay ups. It was a genuine blow out.”

The game had the feel of a Section Nine championship.

On February 18, the Bulldogs (11-5, 5-2 OCIAA) traveled to O’Neill, and Liberty had its season-defining fray with Burke (12-6, 6-1 OCIAA). Kelly mused: “You could see a three-way tie for the division title if we win and Liberty beats them.” A Burke win brings the division title.

Kelly’s bottom line: “If you can shoot, you can win.” Add tough defense to that prescription for success.

Rosa led all scorers with 24 points. Reimer had 17 points, including a pair of threes; Spruill had 12 points that included two threes; Figueroa had 10 points that included two threes.

The Bulldogs’ total of 11 threes on the night did not break the school record of 14 set against Marlboro in the 2005 season.

Jacklyn had 13 points, Leahy had 11 for Burke. The Eagles were 14 for 18 from the line. Sullivan West was nine for 20. Burke turned it over 21 times on the night to the Bulldogs’ 14.

Finally free of servitude to Burke, the Bulldogs went off to the locker room, celebrating their own version of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln.

Visit riverreportersports.com for more details and an album of photos.

TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Sullivan West’s R.J. Rosa fires in one of his five three pointers on the night. He led all scorers with 24 points and had a triple double that included 12 rebounds and 11 assists. He is defended by Burke’s Vinny Yates. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Sullivan West seniors Dan Figueroa, left, Brad Reimer, Justin Armstrong, Harold Smith and James Spruill look happy in the pre-game ceremony on Senior Night. They looked even happier following their 68-56 win. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Brad Reimer stretches to put in two. Reimer had 17 points that included a pair of threes. (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Dan Figueroa rises to the rim and is met by Burke’s Matt Cooney. Figueroa had 10 points that included a pair of threes. His first basket gave the Bulldogs an early lead they would never relinquish. (Click for larger version)