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SOMERS, N.Y. – The odds certainly weren’t in Byram Hills’ favor, trailing Kennedy Catholic by 12 points at halftime with senior Andrew Maloney in foul trouble and junior Jeff Lynch hobbled by a foot injury.
Just don’t tell the Bobcats that.
Fifth-seeded Byram Hills staged a stunning 55-50 comeback win over No. 4 Kennedy in the Section 1 Class A quarterfinals on Wednesday, eliminating the Gaels from the playoffs for the second straight year. Last season, Byram Hills was an underdog and upset the top-seeded Gaels in the semifinals on their way to a Section 1 Class A title.
“We were down at halftime but we knew we could win,” Byram Hills senior Matt Debold said. “Coach just told us, ‘We’re the defending Class A champions. Let’s just put it all on the floor.’”
Trailing 36-29 after three quarters, Byram Hills got hot from the perimeter. Debold (eight points) and Golden (17 points) each hit a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. Golden’s second 3 gave Byram its first lead of the second half at 44-42 with 2:53 left in the game.
“We were hitting shots finally,” Golden said. “In the first half we couldn’t make a shot for our life. We always have that confidence. Once the 3’s weren’t going, we thought we should go to the basket more and get to the foul line and it helped out.”
The Bobcats (14-6) went 7 for 9 from the foul line to close out the game. Byram’s experience and toughness made a difference down the stretch.
“The guys believe in themselves and believe in each other,” Byram Hills coach Ted Repa said. “Even when we made a few mistakes down the stretch, we were able to respond right away and make a good play.”
Lynch (11 points), who was forced to leave Byram’s first-round win over Rye due to his nagging foot injury, was a solid part of the comeback. In the third quarter he nailed a 3-pointer and then scored again to trim the deficit to 32-25.
While Byram Hills was on fire in the fourth quarter, they were ice cold in the second. Kennedy outscored Byram 16-4 in the second to build the 30-18 halftime lead.
“In the second quarter, we were turning the ball over,” Repa said. “They were telling us to shoot and we were missing, so we stopped believing in our shots. Then we were trying to force things that didn’t need to be forced. Once we got to halftime I said, ‘If you don’t believe in yourselves, who else is going to?’ Then we started hitting shots and all of a sudden we’re right back in the game and took the lead.”
Kennedy was led by senior Thiago Randazzo who scored a game-high 20 points. Randazzo helped the Gaels to a strong start by scoring 12 points in the first half, but he was in foul trouble in the second half and fouled out with 1:08 remaining.
“He was actually killing us the whole game,” Debold said. “He’s a fantastic player. We tried shutting him down. We did a better job of it (in the second half).”
“We just had to play straight up,” said freshman center Andrew Groll, who scored 10 points and held his own against Randazzo. “He’s a great player and a tough match up.”
The Gaels trailed 14-10 late in the first quarter, but closed strong when Randazzo converted a layup and senior Mike Ennis (six points) stole the inbounds pass and beat the buzzer to tie the game. Jordan Hardy added nine points for Kennedy (14-6).
Byram Hills has been overcoming obstacles all season, specifically Lynch having a troublesome ankle injury.
“It’s definitely been a challenging year, but life is challenging,” Repa said. “You go through a lot of struggles in life. When you go through those struggles, that reveals what type of person you are and family you are. A team is like a family. And tonight, we didn’t quit on each other. To get back to the County Center with all the challenges is really a nice feeling.”
Byram Hills moves on to the Section 1 Class A semifinals where it will face top-seeded and undefeated Tappan Zee on Feb. 28 at the Westchester County Center.
“They’re a great defensive team,” Debold said. “In my opinion, they have the best defensive player in the section in Joe Letizia. We’ve got to mark up, hit our shots and really work hard.”
Tappan Zee defeated Byram Hills, 50-46, on Feb. 4.
“It’s going to be an exciting game,” Golden said. “We’re going to give them everything we’ve got and hopefully we’ll come out with that win.”