Running Rams season ends in Class A semi-finals

The 2015 Amsterdam Running Rams basketball season ended the same way it did a year ago- to an undefeated team. They put up a valiant effort, but in the end Amsterdam fell to the same undefeated, number one ranked Class A team in the state, the Scotia-Glenville Tartans, 73-51 Thursday night at Guilderland High School in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Section 2 semi-finals.

“They’re the number one team in the state and we held our own against them,” Amsterdam senior Hector Rodriguez said. “I’m proud of my team. We’re a good team.”

Amsterdam (16-5) was strong early on and battled the Tartans point for point in the first quarter using their “run and jump” defense to disrupt the Tartans talented offense led by Albany State- bound senior Joe Cremo. The Rams concept turned into steals and kept them close for much of the first half. Anferny Aponnte’s steal and score closed out the first quarter with the Rams trailing by only two, 14-12. The Tartans had an 18-12, lead when the “run and jump” was at it’s best with Jemal Robinson intercepting a pair of passes leading to layups by himself and teammate James Valentin, and Aponte, who took a defensive rebound and drove the length of the court for two more. The Rams tied it at 18-18 and sprinted down court on the next steal by Kory Bergh, but Scotia-Glenville recovered, a shot was blocked, emotions overflowed, and in the resulting action each team was issued a technical foul with the ball going to the Running Rams.

Amsterdam then had a chance to take the lead against the top ranked Class A team in the state, but there’s a reason why Scotia- Glenville (21-0) has won now 48 in a row: defense.

“We tried to break their zone, but they’re just so long,” Amsterdam head coach Tony Orapello said. “That zone is awesome. We can’t find a weakness.”

The Tartans “3-2” zone defense with starting players Cremo, Scott Stopera, (5 pts) Joe Almond (8 pts), Michael Palleschi (9 pts), and Diamond Corker (13 pts) was effective in keeping Amsterdam off the scoreboard for nearly the last four minutes of the first half. The Tartans out-rebounded Amsterdam and stepped into passing lanes leading to a 14-2 run to close out the second quarter. Cremo had six of his game high 32 points during that stretch and Corker had five. Scotia-Glenville held a 32-21 lead at halftime, and Amsterdam would not threaten again.

“We tried the run and jump and it worked for a while,” Coach Orapello said. “Then Scotia-Glenville went on a run. I thought we would go on a run and didn’t get it. Everything was working, but that run killed us. Then in the second half they couldn’t miss.”

The Tartans started the second half with Cremo scoring the first five points. The senior showed another side of his game netting a trio of three-point baskets in the frame and 11 of the Tartans 20 points in the third. Bergh answered with eight of his team high 13 points for the Running Rams in the quarter with six coming on a pair of threes from the corner along the baseline. The Tartans offense was tough to match though, scoring on eight of their eleven possessions in the third quarter and outscoring Amsterdam 41-30 in the second half. The Running Rams showed their heart and never stopped playing and scored on the last possession of each quarter with three shots coming from beyond the arc as the horn sounded.

“We came out and played with emotion,” said Marcus Pritchard, who along with Aponte, Rodriguez, Valentin, and Andrew Druziak played their final game in a Running Rams uniform. “I was realizing that it may be my last time, so I just let loose. I’m proud of my team. We never gave up, and I love every one of them. I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to end my high school career with. Next year will be another good year for AHS.”

Pritchard finished with four points, four rebounds, and three blocks to help the Rams cause.

“That’s the best defense Marcus played all year,” Coach Orapello said. “That’s what we were missing. We don’t have the height so we relied on our speed and quickness, and played good defense in the first half. The “run and jump” is what got us where we are.”

James Valentin and Andrew Druziak each finished with nine points for AHS, Anferny Aponte tallied eight points, Jemal Robinson had six, and Brian Stanavich finished with two points. Hector Rodriguez contributed a team high of five rebounds and added five assists.

“We played hard and this is a great step forward,” Coach Orapello said. “We have a good group returning next year and we will be a deep team again. We won’t miss a beat.”

This year’s seniors have set the bar a little higher for the future of the program, but the Amsterdam Running Rams have plenty of experience coming through the ranks with Junior Varsity, Freshman, Eighth Grade, and Seventh Grade Rams teams that all finished at the top in their Foothills Council divisions this season, all in their first year in the league. The future for basketball looks bright for AHS.

Scott Mulford

Scott Mulford has been covering local sports for over 20 years. He previously wrote for the Amsterdam Star and The Free Press of the Mohawk Valley.