In seven years as the head basketball coach at Rye High School, John Aguilar has never walked out of the gymnasium at Byram Hills as a winner. But on Feb. 23, the underdog Garnets gave Aguilar his first road win over the Bobcats in their biggest game of the year, a 50-42 victory to advance to the Class A semifinals.
For the No. 5 seed, the win marked the first time in four consecutive tries that the Garnets have advanced past the quarterfinal round.
“It was unbelievable that when I walked in the locker room after the game, the players were congratulating me,” Aguilar told the Review. “This game was about them, but to see that, it meant a lot to me personally.”
Rye’s victory meant even more to Aguilar, considering the selfless style of play that Rye needed to adopt in order to be successful this year. With a deep—but undersized—roster, the Garnets needed to quickly adapt to an unselfish, defensive style of play in order to take down their larger opponent.
Employing a new defensive press for the first time all season, Rye locked down the explosive Bobcats, allowing just 17 first-half points.
“I guess it comes down to a trust in the system, believing in it and understanding it from day one,” Aguilar said. “Even though we mixed up our defensive rotations, the kids had a comfort level with the system and the traps we were using.”
Offensively, the Garnets were led by Matt Tepedino, who had 14 points. Quinn Kelly scored 9 and Thomas Flaherty added 8 in the sort of balanced showing Rye has grown accustomed to over the course of its current 12-game winning streak.
“This might be the smallest team I’ve coached, but it’s the deepest,” Aguilar said. “Even early on in the season, we made a conscious effort to give a lot of guys important minutes even if they weren’t quite ready for it.”
With the win, Rye moves one step closer to a berth in the Class A finals, but they will face a stiff test on Wednesday, Feb. 26, after press time, when they travel to Poughkeepsie to take on the top-seeded Pioneers.
Poughkeepsie, which has not lost a Section I contest all year, advanced to the semifinals with a decisive 78-49 win over Albertus Magnus on Feb. 23. The winner of Wednesday’s game will play for the Class A title on March 2 at Pace University.
“They’re the No. 1 seed for a reason and they’ve got one of the best players in the section in Davontrey Thomas, who is a 6-foot-3 guard who is built like a power forward,” Aguilar said. “We’re going to have to limit them to one or two shots per possession, and offensively we’re just going to have to use our quickness to get them into foul trouble.”