MONTICELLO, NY — No doubt it was a heady adventure for the Sullivan West Bulldogs to get the better of Monticello in last week’s BCANY boys basketball scrimmage. But that euphoria was short lived, as the Panthers came out with sound and fury on December 2 to bury the Westies 79-32 in the season opener for both squads. The basketball sojourn is a long one, and making it to sectionals is the goal for all teams out of the gate, so one game is just a stop along the way in that quest. Still on Monticello Coach Chris Russo’s mind was last January 4th, when his veteran squad suffered a stultifying 54-50 loss to the Dawgs in Lake Huntington.
That day proved to be the nail in the coffin as Monticello eventually came up one game shy of making it to sectionals. Sullivan West went on to make it to sectionals before being ousted by Ellenville in the opening round, while the Montis stayed home to read about other teams in the paper. Russo reminded his team of that crucial loss to the Westies prior to the game in “The Pit,” staged in front of an enthusiastic home crowd revved up for the return of Monti hoops. The Panthers got off to a fiery 10-1 start and never looked back as they converted steals into transition buckets and deployed a menacing man-to-man defense that had the Dawgs looking shell-shocked and out of synch. Intent on deploying a new offense this year that would feature a blend of several of last year’s junior varsity players fresh off their juggernaut season, with battle-tested varsity veterans, Russo admitted that defensive schooling took an initial back seat for the first two weeks of practice. “We worked on the fundamentals of defense initially. I told the team, we don’t have a lot defensively, but what we’ve got we’ve got to be really good at.” Once the team got comfortable with its offense, it turned its focus on marshaling its defensive verve, a traditional earmark of Monticello basketball. After this opening rout, Russo noted, “We were much better on the ball than we’ve been in any of our scrimmages and on help side defense, too. We didn’t give up anything cheap off the drive,” he added. Monticello which normally begins its season with the upcoming Hawley Tip-Off Tournament slated for December 6-7 at Wallenpaupack High School, played this rare early game against Sullivan West, a team that over the years has been a stalwart, non-league rival. Indeed for this writer/photographer, some of the most riveting games in my burgeoning archival memory were staged between the Cats and Dawgs. But this game had no such tenor. Monticello led 20-5 after the first quarter and 42-15 by the half. That lead burgeoned to 66-25 by the end of the third quarter. The album of photos (www.sportsinsights.smugmug.com ) reveals a blur of Panthers on the run and rising to the rim. Games of this ilk do not warrant a play-by-play narration, though with digital recorder in hand, this writer recounts every moment of action never once taking his eyes off the court with camera at the ready, given the game’s blistering pace. Sophomore Donavan Williams made his varsity debut with a game-high 22 points, four steals and a quartet of three pointers. Junior Sha-Shawn Drayton posted 20 points as the Montis controlled the offensive and defensive glass leading to many second chance points. Sullivan West junior Brian Stauch led the Bulldogs with eight points. Sullivan West (0-1) was 12-for-26 from the stripe (41%), while Monticello (1-0) was a bit better at 13-for-27 (48%). Sullivan West Coach Bruce Nober didn’t sugarcoat the outcome. “We didn’t handle their defensive pressure or match their intensity. We never really got into the flow,” he noted adding, “it’s a long season.” Sullivan West will travel to the Walton Tournament on December 4 and December 6 looking to right the ship. For a more detailed story visit www.sportsinsightsny.com  and check out the album that includes a bevy of Monti cheerleading shots at www.sportsinsights.smugmug.com .