By MIKE SMITH
On Feb. 24, Rye Neck’s season came to an end with a 51-44 loss to Woodlands in the Class B semifinals at the County Center.
Despite an impressive showing though the first three quarters, the Panthers–who have spent an entire season defying the odds and overcoming adversity–simply couldn’t withstand the athleticism of the Class B favorite Falcons.
From the outset, Rye Neck looked to play to its strength, operating from inside out and putting the ball in the hands of big man Matt Franks, who finished the day with 17 points. Comfortable playing a slow-paced game, the Panthers headed into the half trailing 23-20 to a team that played with some of the top Class A schools in the area.
“Early on, we really executed our game plan,” Franks said after the game. “We were playing good defense and, on offense, we were looking to pound the ball inside to our bigs.”
Rye Neck continued to execute the blueprint in the third quarter, taking the lead and making the most of Woodlands’ misses from outside. In the fourth quarter though, the Falcons were able to get some momentum, utilizing the athleticism that makes them perhaps the most feared team in Class B, re-claiming the league with less than five minutes to go and continuing to run the floor to build a comfortable cushion.
“All night, we forced them into some tough shots and kept the score low,” Panthers coach Shawn Lincoln said.
“We didn’t want to get into a track meet with them. You saw how effective they were when they were able to push the lead out in the fourth quarter with a couple of easy buckets.”
Despite the loss, Lincoln was pleased with the Panthers’ effort on the day as Rye Neck’s intensity never ebbed, even in the waning minutes of the loss.
To that end, Lincoln heaped credit on point guard Chris Pennell, who was active on the boards and willing–on several occasions–to stand his ground against Woodlands’ players on their way to the rack.
“His energy is unbelievable, but so is his courage,” Lincoln said of the senior guard. “He’s a buck twenty, soaking wet, and he’s able to stand in there trying to take charges. He has so much confidence in his ability.”
With nine seniors graduating at the end of the year, the Panthers’ squad will have a very different look next winter. But this year’s team, able to overcome three season-ending injuries to find itself still in contention for a sectional
title, won’t be one that Lincoln soon forgets.
“I’ve got nothing but pride,” Lincoln said. “They’re the greatest group of kids from top to bottom and I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to coach this group. It’s sad to think that I won’t be coaching a lot of these guys next year.”