Big Lake redemption
December 15, 2011 —
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.