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October 26, 2016
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Big Lake redemption

The Wallenpaupack Buckhorns raise the tournament trophy as they celebrate its return to “the Big Lake.” The trophy has resided in Monticello for the past two years. Wallenpaupack’s Jake Brown, the tourney’s MVP, is shown smiling in the foreground.

WALLENPAUPACK, PA — When it comes to New York versus Pennsylvania high school sports, it’s nearly never that twain shall meet. One exception is the annual Hawley Rotary Tip-Off Basketball Tournament held at the Wallenpaupack Area Gym in early December. It is there that Monticello travels to represent the New York side of the river against schools like Western Wayne or Mountain View and, inevitably, the host Wallenpaupack Buckhorns, a team they have defeated in the championship games for the past two years. This year, the storied tournament celebrated its 14th anniversary.

After a cadre of talent left last June, Monticello coach Chris Russo knew this year’s young and mostly inexperienced squad would face an uphill battle for the title three-peat. Having won the consolation game in 2008, followed by two consecutive years of semifinal and final wins, the Monties had a five-game winning streak on the Buckhorns’ floor. By night’s end on December 9, that streak became six, behind a commanding 61-39 win over the Western Wayne Wildcats. The Monties trailed 16-15 at the end of the first quarter before their swarming defense, anchored by returning veterans Anthony Gray and Rob Riley, held Western Wayne to 23 points for the remainder of the game. Riley posted 15 points, while Gray had 13. Newcomer senior Ros Djonbaloj had 12.

Meanwhile, Wallenpaupack made short work of Mountain View by the score of 45-23. That led to the much-anticipated December 10 championship rematch between the cross-river rivals. Reclaiming the trophy back to “the Big Lake” was an avowed early-season goal for the Buckhorns whose advantage in size came not just from their big front court players, but also by dint of the fact that they are a Quad A school district, quite a bit larger than their NY counterpart. Monticello’s depth of talent the past few years neutralized that advantage. Last year’s 41-40 last-second victory by Monticello, due to the heroics of Kenny Sanders Jr., was a foreshadowing of Monticello’s season success that carried them to the Section 9 Class A semifinals, as well as Wallenpaupack’s struggles in its 5-18 season against tough Quad A districts.

This year, though, the polarity was reversed as the Buckhorns, led by junior standout Jake Brown, defeated Monticello 47-35. Brown, the tournament MVP, had 24 points to go along with the 26 he posted against Mountain View. Early foul trouble for Monticello and its inability to sustain its defense in the no-shot-clock milieu of PA basketball led to its demise. Monticello led 10-9 at the end of the first quarter but trailed from there on. A heroic late run was answered by the Buckhorns, who celebrated the return of the trophy at game’s end. Riley was named to the All-Tournament team.

Monticello (1-1) plays host to Sullivan West (1-2) on December 15. The Westies were hoping to encounter Monticello behind the momentum of a championship win in the Chester Hambletonian Classic as they prepared to take on Fallsburg for the second time this season. Despite holding a 12-point lead against the Comets up in the Walton Tournament, Sullivan West succumbed 61-57. This time out it wasn’t even close. Fallsburg withstood a first-quarter 9-0 run by Sullivan West as they closed to within two at 9-7 at the end of the first quarter and then blanked the Westies 13-0 in the second frame for a 20-9 halftime lead. Fallsburg (3-1) went on to defeat Sullivan West 45-29 for the tourney title win. Comet standout Michael Robinson, named tournament MVP, had 16 points. Fallsburg’s Braiden DeGraw and Sullivan West’s Sawyer Erlwein were named to the All-Tournament team.

Earlier in the day, Fallsburg’s girls had defeated Sullivan West 43-20 in the consolation game. The Lady Comets (2-2) were led by Kelsey Moody’s 11 points and nine rebounds. Shanice Mack and Paige Seletsky each had nine rebounds. Mack scored nine points. Freshman Diana Presti had eight points in her varsity debut. Fallsburg’s Sheryl Pinder and Sullivan West’s Erika Stauch were named to the All-Tournament team. Chester (2-0) won the tournament championship by downing Eldred (1-1) 48-20. Sullivan West (0-2) hosts Monticello (2-0) on December 14.

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