By Benito Vila
The new kid. Everyone likes his toys but they don’t know what to make of him. No one knows how long he’ll be around and he’s sort of awkward when he tries to do what everyone else has been doing for a long time.
That can all be true of new schools, too, coming on the scene where others have been for years. So it has been for Ross, the private school seeming to emphasize experiential learning over traditional practices.
But as Ross closes out its second decade, the local community is seeing its more conventional “academic” programs mature. That is plainly evident in athletics, Ross teams starting to be ones that no one wants to play.
No longer easy to beat, those teams are making a name for themselves. That’s become true in tennis and now it’s true in basketball, the Ross boys’ varsity team protecting their home court on Tuesday and upending their Pierson rivals for the first-time ever, 54-47.
Ross now stands 3-0 in League VIII play while one-time state powerhouse Pierson is 0-3. This coming week is one that will prove whether those starts are flukes or a preview of what’s to come this winter.
Pierson has Greenport home on Friday, Stony Brook away Monday, Smithtown Christian home Wednesday and Bridgehampton home next Friday. Ross, meanwhile, has Stony Brook away today, Bridgehampton home Tuesday, Southold away Wednesday and Greenport home Friday. That sets the Whalers against the current middle of the league, with the Ravens taking on mostly the top.
There’s no knowing where the teams will end up, but what was clear Tuesday is that Ross can pass and shoot and that Pierson has hustle and depth that can keep it in games. Neither school, though, seems to have a dominant go-to force and both will need to rely on effort and teamwork to win.
Chaskey, Pettaway and More
It was Ross’ free throw shooting that put the game away Tuesday, 16 of the Ravens’ last 20 points coming from the line. Pierson, meanwhile, managed to work out of a nine-point hole with two minutes remaining to have a whistle with 30 seconds left derail a near comeback.
Even though the win was a team effort, it was sophomore Liam Chaskey who kept Ross in the game, scoring 18 of his team’s 22 first-half points, the Ravens up one at the break. Twelve of Chaskey’s points came from beyond the arc, each of those four three-pointers dropping through the net after Pierson had started to pull away.
In the second half, the Whalers shadowed and shut down Chaskey’s outside shooting, but junior forward Brendan Pettaway stepped up to distribute the ball inside and create another tempo. The two teams played even in the third quarter, the score 34-33 Ross going into the final frame.
The Wild, Wild Fourth
The physical, pounding nature of the contest took its toll in the fourth, Pierson coach Christian Johns being ejected for pointing out what he wanted to be called a foul. That double technical brought Chaskey to the line for four shots, Ross up 36-33 with seven minutes to go.
Chaskey made three out of four, the Ravens going up six, 39-33. Ross maintaining possession, Chaskey almost put the game away there, his three pointer going in and out.
Pierson stayed close, coming to within two, at 39-37, with four minutes left to play, an in-bounds play drawn up by Whaler coaches Dan White and Jonathan Tortorella freeing Tyler Gilbride for a lay-up.
The next two minutes saw Ross go on a 6-0 run, all the points coming from the foul line, Fuhito Yoshiba, a perfect four-for-four and Chaskey and Hayden Aldredge adding one apiece.
Four free throws by Tyler Gilbride and two by Sklyer Loesch lifted the Whalers back into the game, at 48-43, with 47.5 seconds left. Regaining possession with a full-court press, Pierson played for two, Luke Kirrane making that plan work, his basket cutting the Raven lead to 48-45 with 35.3 seconds left.
On the next Ross possession, a whistle against the Whalers put Pettaway on the line and he halted the Pierson charge by sinking both shots.
Taking the ball, down five, 50-45, with 30 seconds left, the Whalers were still alive. But a blocked shot and another foul, followed by two more free throws from Yoshiba, buried them, making the score 52-45 with 13 seconds left.
Chaskey and Yoshiba closed out the Ross scoring, each getting a point from the line. Gilbride did the same for Pierson, sinking a pair of free throws with five seconds left, the scoreboard reading 54-47 Ravens at the buzzer.
The gleeful, overflowing Ross crowd came on the court at the buzzer, as what was left of the Pierson side filed out silently.
All On MSG Varsity
Ross coach Kelly McKee was subdued afterwards, cleaning up gear as most high school coaches do after a big win, players minds suddenly going elsewhere.
In summarizing the game, Coach McKee said, “We were sloppy in the first half but much better in the second half. Liam put two halves together and that made it easier on everyone else to play their roles. Both Brendan and Fuhito made big shots at the end, but so did Hayden. And Lorcan [Jowers] and Charles [McIntosh] kept giving us extra chances underneath.”
Coming back to the court later, Chaskey was clearly delighted by the outcome and the fact Cablevision’s MSG Varsity network was there to record his performance. “[Pierson] came out on us man-to-man and we haven’t seen a lot of that. No one else was scoring, so I had to keep shooting, and there was a while when I couldn’t miss.”
“Every time I touched the ball in the second half, there was someone facing me. They were switching people up all the time. That made us all really have to work together and we did.”
The Pierson coaches were quiet about the outcome and the ejection of Coach Johns. By rule, Coach Johns will be unable to lead Pierson in its next game, Coach White and Coach Tortorella taking the helm Friday as the Whalers host Greenport at 6:15 p.m.
The next Ross home game is Monday, the Bridgehampton Killer Bees in for a 4:30 start.