By Mike Smith
Chris Cascione might not have had the best night from the field on Feb. 18, but with the Panthers’ season on the line and time running out, the senior showed little fear—and even less hesitation—sinking a game-winning three-pointer with just 10 seconds left to play to send his Rye Neck squad to the Class C semifinals.
According to Panther coach Shawn Lincoln, Cascione’s heroics–and the team’s subsequent 47-46 upset of Blind Brook—is simply another example of the team’s long-demonstrated ability to keep its composure in tight spots.
Down by two, but with enough time left to ensure Blind Brook another possession, the Panthers looked to feed star Matt Franks inside to force a tie, but good Trojan defense forced Franks to kick it outside, where the ball eventually found Cascione who, despite having made just one basket on the evening, had the confidence to bury the game winner from beyond the arc.
“We weren’t necessarily looking for three or the win right there,” Lincoln said. “But it shows our patience that we worked it around, and Chris found a seam for a good look and hit the shot.”
Patience and grace under fire are two things the Panthers have had in spades this year, both on the court and off, as the team has dealt with myriad injuries to key players.
“We were really able to grind this win out,” Lincoln said after the game. “And I think that a lot of this goes back to the experience the kids have had this year and in past years. They’ve done a great job of sticking together all year when they fall behind.”
Franks—19 points, 15 rebounds—and Angelo Spedafino—17 points—led the Panthers on the offensive end, but Rye Neck also put together a strong defensive showing against a Blind Brook squad that won the previous meeting between the teams 64-58.
“Coming in, our goal was to hold them to under 50 points,” Lincoln said. “And down the stretch tonight, this win really boiled down to our effort on the defensive end.”
With the win, Rye Neck is set to make its first appearance at the County Center since 2006 when it takes on a solid Woodlands team in the semifinal round.
At 12-6 on the season, Woodlands has squared-off against some of the section’s top teams, regardless of class. After a brief respite, Lincoln said the Panthers will be back in the gym later this week to prepare for the showdown.
“[Woodlands] is definitely going to be tough, they’re one of the best teams in the section,” he said. “We’re going to give the boys a well-deserved day off tomorrow, I’m going to sit down with the coaching staff and work on getting us prepared for Monday, but right now, we’re just enjoying the moment.”