MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. – Rye Neck's boys' basketball team had lost six games by six points or less this season.
But Panthers head coach John Aguilar never lost hope.
“I told the kids eventually the ball is going to bounce our way,” Aguilar said. “And tonight it did.”
The Panthers (5-8) outlasted the Westlake Wildcats (6-7) in double overtime for an 87-78 win on Friday. Westlake overcame two large deficits in the second half. The Wildcats were down, 39-25, at halftime but cut the lead to five at the end of the third quarter.
Rye Neck led, 64-55, with just more than a minute to go, but Westlake refused to quit. John D’Onofrio hit a three to make pull Westlake within three at 64-61 with 38 seconds to go.
The Panthers missed two free throws and Westlake missed a three-pointer that would have tied the game. The Wildcats were whistled for an over the back foul with 17 seconds to play, and Rye Neck drained two free throws to extend the lead to five.
The Wildcats converted a three point play with 12 seconds remaining to cut the lead to two, and Rye Neck then missed two more free throws. Westlake called timeout with 11 seconds left.
Tommy Hopkins, who seemed to be everywhere on the court on Friday, then made a layup as the buzzer sounded to send the game into overtime.
Westlake led for much of the first overtime period, but Rye Neck forced double OT when Brendan Crowley hit two free throws. The Panthers outscored the Wildcats, 15-6, in the second overtime as Westlake missed several free throws and the offense went cold.
Westlake head coach Steve Pesick pointed to the lack of production from the charity stripe.
“In a game like this, you get an opportunity to make two foul shots and you miss both and they come down and score, you start to lose that momentum you had,” Pesick said.
Crowley led Rye Neck with 27 points and Matt Franks had 24. Connor O’Shea added 14 for the Panthers.
Rich Maio led the Wildcats with 25 points, while Hopkins had 22.
Rye Neck had a top 20 defense in the state in terms of points against them coming into Friday’s game. The Panthers will take a hit in that category, but Aguilar said the defense late in the game led them to the win.
“That’s what we’ve been doing to be successful,” Aguilar said. “The kids buckled down and went back to what we do best in the second overtime.”