Liberty Upends Sullivan West In League Debut For Both Squads; Electrifying Atmosphere Features “Battle Of The Fans”; Byrd Leads All Scorers With 18 As Rival Schools Redial Their Intense Competitive War Without End
Liberty 60, Sullivan West 38
UPDATE: LIBERTY DISCOVERS ONE OF ITS PLAYERS IS INELIGIBLE AND FORFEITS ALL OF ITS WINS INCLUDING THIS ONE. PLEASE READ THE PRESS RELEASE IN THE NEWS COLUMN FOR THE FULL STATEMENT BY THE LIBERTY SCHOOL DISTRICT. THIS STORY REMAINS ON THE WEBSITE AS THE RIVALRY BETWEEN THE SCHOOLS IS VIABLE AND ONGOING. THIS WILL RESULT IN LIBERTY HAVING AN 0-7 (0-1 ) RECORD AND SULLIVAN WEST’S RECORD WILL IMPROVE TO 6-3 (1-0)
By RICHARD A. ROSS
LIBERTY, NY—It doesn’t get any better than this.
High school sports rivalry at its best. Two schools who batter each other from season to season and sport to sport, zealous fans decked out in their full regalia of color and style, a deafening din and a game on the hardwood featuring players who give their all. It’s Liberty vs. Sullivan West and it never disappoints.
I can’t wait to tell this tale but first, permit me to begin this treatise with a short sportswriter/photographer’s invocation:
Lord, Avail me countless more years to walk the sidelines of these courts (and fields); To revel in the passion of youth with all of its exuberance and spirit and to celebrate it for all to witness.
Grant me the clarity of voice and vision to find the words and images to extol such gallantry and passion, for someone needs to shout it to the rafters just how wonderful it is to be young, strong and full of life.
Help me shed some light on the long-enduring lessons of these frays, the insights gained by its participants that will serve them long after these games are done. Let these stories and pictures remain a timeless memory of these wondrous days.
Through the laughter, the tears, the din and the silence, through the wins and the losses, the friendships formed and the rivalries that endure, let me do my part to quantify it all with every fiber of my being.
Because for these young athletes, their parents, friends, coaches and communities, these surely are the days of their lives.
Inside of me resides a 17-year old who never ages.
He still hears the cheers emanating from the stands as his Midwood High School football team completes yet another undefeated season. He closes his eyes and calls to life the seas of blue and white legions who populated the stands back then. He hears the band, reclaims the memory of his first love (with a cheerleader, no less) and he never, ever lets it fade to black.
That inner teenager comes alive day after day within this aging sportswriter/photographer who can’t stop smiling at games like this iconic early January clash between Liberty and Sullivan West, the next chapter in a rivalry without end.
Without such rivalry and the hordes of zealous fans who keep it alive, high school sports would lose much of their luster. Though I continue to aver that the sheer participation in athletics with the right degree of commitment, sportsmanship and mentoring can arm a young person for life with strengths and insights gained.
That would be true even if there was no such thing as packed gymnasiums, barking cheerleaders, bands and those pulse-stirring “battles of the fans” like the one staged between the Indian Tribe and the Dawg Pound.
But thank goodness all of that was in place for this much-anticipated battle, the next chapter in the “Neverending Story” that has come to define the season-to-season rivalry between the neighboring schools.
There can be little doubt that this first league basketball game would carry with it the trappings of much more than just another hardwood engagement considering the residue of the two schools’ most recent encounter.
It was Friday night October 7 and host Sullivan West and Liberty were locked in an overtime gridiron battle to the death. The winner would earn a berth in the coming Class C playoffs and the loser would have its hopes for such dashed.
Sullivan West won the overtime toss and proceeded to score on a TD run by Tom Mootz. Kitt Borowski’s PAT made it 21-14 but Liberty answered right back on a TD by Kenny Jaycox. On the ensuing two-point conversion try that would have given Liberty the victory, senior quarterback Marshon Williams missed a pass from holder Quinn Jackson.
That unforgettable moment will be forever branded in the memory of the victorious Bulldogs and the defeated Indians. Williams would remember it all too well as the accompanying picture taken by USAF Staff Sergeant Nicolas Pilch who was shooting pictures for the Eddie Adams Workshop that night, will timelessly recall.
But on this January 10, Williams’ birthday, the agenda was a bit of redemption for that bitter memory and that could only come by turning the tables on the Bulldogs. It wouldn’t bring back the football season but it could deal the Carolina Blue and White a taste of their own medicine. Fellow football players Ryan Henry, Joe Franke, Victor Agunbiade, Javier Baez and Tayor Vankeuren no doubt fell the same surge as they took to the hardwood in the deafening din.
Prior to their introduction they had stared or rather glared as Sullivan West players were introduced including quarterback E.J. Franskevicz, running back Sawyer Erlwein and SW lineman of the year Andrew Parsons. Sub Brad Hemmer was also a part of the Bulldogs grid force.
Simply put, there was no love loss between these players though the sport had changed. Rest assured, it will continue on into baseball and track in the spring. It should be noted the rivalry on the soccer pitch was intense as well to say the least.
And so with the opposite stands filled, the band pumping between segments of great music put forth by announcer Mike McGuire and the introductions complete it was time for the tip. Both teams know what a challenge it will be to win against Burke and O’Neill so their desire to gain a valued key league win was that much more crucial.
Liberty senior Travis Beaupierre controlled the tip against Sullivan West sophomore Patrick Pierce. Eddie Byrd kicked it out to Franke for three as the Tribe drew first blood. Committed to play man-to-man defense, Sullivan West was going to have to contend with Liberty’s quickness, its ability to outmuscle and its rebounding edge which would neutralize the Westies solid first-possession defense.
Talking to Liberty Coach Mike Salvia after his team’s demonstrative win over Chester, Salvia felt Sullivan West would have trouble trying to man his team. In addition he felt his team’s tough helping defense would keep SW big man Pierce from getting comfortable in the paint.
In the early going in particular and by and large for most of the night, Salvia was right on both counts. Pierce who lit it up in the Westie’s two prior wins against Tri-Valley and Chapel Field was quieted to a lone trey on the night.
But back to the action at hand.
Liberty would tear off a 9-0 early run while keeping the Westies at bay for half of the first stanza. A layup by Franke, a pair of free throws from Byrd and a dish from Williams to a slashing Beaupierre led to the nine-zip lead with 4:47.
Sullivan West coach Bruce Nober called a time out and reminded his team that they would have to weather the anticipated early storm. Matt Cardona heeded the call with a trey and Erlwein stood in and took a charge as Byrd picked up his first foul. The Westies were moving well without the ball and a nice feed to Cardona gave him an open look but he missed as the ball went out off of Liberty. The Dawgs converted off an inbounds pass from Franskevicz to John Masten to close 9-5.
Byrd answered with a trey but Liberty was piling up early fouls. A dish to Masten coming down the lane cut the lead to 12-7. Pierce hit a trey and it was 12-10 as Salvia called a halt to play to talk it over. Like a great prize fight it had been punch-counterpunch and the crowd was loving it.
Liberty looked a bit out of synch despite getting a steal which they quickly squandered. The Westies turned it right back. Williams hit a pair of free throws to make it 14-10 but the Westies had the last word of the stanza as Erlwein buried a put back of Pierce miss. The quarter ended with the Indians clinging to a 14-12 lead.
The second quarter was an entirely different story as the Tribe would outscore the Dawgs 18-7 to take a 30-21 lead into halftime. This is how it shook out: SW inbounded the ball and Cardona missed an open three as did Erlwein. Beaupierre hit one of two from the line. Byrd’s shots weren’t dropping but and Masten put back a miss by Franskevicz to make it 15-14 with 5:46 to go. This would be as close as the Bulldogs would get in a game they never led in.
Byrd missed two free throws but after a rebound by Henry he canned a bucket. These multiple chances would be Sullivan West’s death knell. A Byrd steal and a Beaupierre lay up made it 19-14 but Cardona ripped through the lane to make it 19-16. Williams took his rage to the rim as Liberty went on a run fueled by a nifty dish from Yovanni Fields to Trevor Vankeueren with Byrd on the bench.
Andrew Parsons was fouled by Vankeuren and hit one of two. Liberty now had seven fouls as did Sullivan West after Williams was fouled. He missed the front end of a one and one. The Dawgs closed within a bucket again as Parsons scored off an offensive rebound to make it 23-21. Liberty closed out the half on a 7-0 run begun by five straight points from Byrd including a trey. Franke hit a shot at the buzzer to punctuate the half. As noted, Liberty led 30-21 at the break.
Liberty inbounded to start the second half and quickly added two points to the ledger. Cardona scored and hit a free throw to make it 32-24. The Westies were missing long range as Williams raced wire to wire to score. You could feel the intensity as Liberty’s defense was upping the ante looking for the kill.
Sometimes their defensive intensity to double on the ball left an open shooter. Masten profited from being ignored as such with 6:24 to go in the period. Henry nailed a trey to make it 37-26 with 3:40 to go. Franke picked up his third foul. Cardona missed another trey and Westies’ turnover wasn’t helping things either. Pierce fouled Fields on an attempted block.
Fields got a lay up before Franskevicz hit a trey to make it 39-29. Fields added a floater to make it 41-29 and iced the quarter with a trey to make it 44-29. Byrd sent Masten to the line who missed both. Henry hit a free throw to make it 45-29 at the end of three by dint of Liberty’s 15-8 surge in the stanza.
Liberty’s depth was a big plus as Salvia was able to shuttle players in to give his starters a blow. Nober had no such luxury and the pace of the game and the demands on his team at both ends of the floor were taking their toll. In addition, Liberty was outmuscling the visitors in the paint and off the glass, thereby preventing the kind of reassertion Sullivan West would need to get off the mat down 16 with eight minutes to go.
Tired teams often foul and Sullivan West fit that description. They sent the Tribe to the line for seven attempts in the fourth quarter of which they only converted three. By night’s end Liberty was a lackluster nine-for-18 from the stripe for 50%. They got lone buckets from Byrd, Franke, Brandon Wilson, Ahmir McCree, Vankeuren and Beaupierre.
The Westies scored nine in the final frame to Liberty’s 15. Bulldog points came via Franskevicz’s second trey, four points from Cardona and a pair of free throws from Parsons. Sullivan West was even worse at the line than Liberty with its four-for-11, accounting for 36.4%.
Liberty (4-3, 1-0 OCIAA) was led by Byrd with 18. Fields had nine, Beaupierre and Franke had seven, while the birthday boy Williams had six and a smile to go with it.
Sullivan West 5-4 (0-1 OCIAA) was led by Cardona’s 14. Franskevicz and Masten posted six, while Parsons added five. The Westies must now travel to Burke while Liberty takes off to visit O’Neill. Burke beat O’Neill 82-56 to give you some idea about the lay of the land in Division IV.
Salvia noted: “One of our biggest assets on this team is our depth. Every kid wants to be a starter. That’s a great motivator for us. The kids came out and executed the game plan and I couldn’t have asked them to execute any better. We had a couple of great days of practice and the kids came in ready to play basketball,” he noted.
“Our kids were very hungry today. We have a couple of football players on this team and they were really upset after that loss and they really wanted to make a statement tonight. We’re having a blast playing basketball,” said Salvia in response to the point that Byrd wasn’t as accurate as he can be.
“Play the game with a smile, that’s one of our quotes,” said Salvia. “We’re having a lot of fun.”
Salvia commented on the rivalry that Liberty has with Sullivan West in every sport. “It’s great competition when these two schools play each other. The fans came out and we couldn’t ask for better support.”
Asked about what still needs work, Salvia quickly answered, “We need to rebound the ball better. They got a lot of their points off offensive rebounds. When we go down to Burke and O’Neill that’s not going to get it done, nor will it work when we have to play Sullivan West at their place. We’re lucky we were at home tonight. We need to rebound better at both ends of the floor.
We’re doing a much better job with ball pressure and help defense . We have to finish that off by rebounding the basketball. We took open shots in rhythm. We got up and down the floor and scored in transition,” Salvia noted as he noted the plusses.
Nober said, “First of all it was a great atmosphere. This is what high school basketball is all about. I thought we weathered the storm. We started to get in the flow and got some good looks and cut it to one. But we had a few lapse there and they went on an 8-0 run to end the first half,” he recalled.
“We’re not a very deep team but more than being tired I think they were more physical than us. They go those offensive rebounds, won the 50-50 loose balls. We just didn’t match their toughness tonight,” he added.
In terms of the positives Nober said “We played pretty good initial man-to-man defense and forced them to take some bad shots. But then we gave up an offensive rebound and they’d get a put back. You work hard for 25 seconds and it all goes for naught,” he added.
“Give them credit. They play good defense and we couldn’t get into the flow or our half court sets. We’ve got to get tougher on the boards,” he concluded.
The war continues on February 10 in Lake Huntington. I can’t wait.
For an album of photos by Richard and Nick Piatek, visit www.sportsinsights.smugmug.com
Better yet, buy some pictures and keep this eternal teenager on task.