After losing all five starters to graduation, few had any sort of expectations for the Blind Brook boys’ varsity basketball team heading into the 2018-19 season. It was deemed a “rebuilding year” for a squad many thought lacked height and depth. Twenty-four games later, those critics were silenced after a return to the section final that went to overtime and almost saw the boys capture their first Gold Ball as a member of Class B. Following wins over #12 Bronxville, #6 Irvington, and #2 Valhalla in a County Center semifinal battle for the ages, the #3 seeded Trojans fell to #4 Dobbs Ferry 50-45 in the championship game at Pace University.
Championship @ Pace University
The Blind Brook camp got to Pace University well ahead of the 7:30 p.m. tip-off on Friday, Mar. 1 to support the Trojans, as the Irvington girls defeated Briarcliff in their championship game. The Irvington end, which would become the Dobbs Ferry end, was packed with fans after a social media message went around encouraging the “Rivertowns” to unite to cheer on both the Irvington girls’ and Dobbs Ferry boys’ team. That didn’t stop the Blind Brook end, which was in full chorus again, fans standing and cheering throughout the contest. After a long wait, warmups, and the playing of the anthem, it was game time.
Both teams came out of the gate in sloppy fashion. It took a bunch of possessions before the first basket was finally scored. After the first quarter, the Trojans led just 8-5, courtesy of an Isaac Grodin layup and three-pointers from Ryan Aiello and Gilad Price. A Ben Sachs corner three began the second quarter for Blind Brook, who immediately went into an offensive skid. The boys were greatly outrebounded but found a way to keep things tight by playing a solid defensive zone and slowing the tempo on the offensive end. An unnecessary turnover with 2.1 seconds left in the half allowed Dobbs to score at the buzzer and take a 19-16 lead into the break, but the Trojans had their opponents right where they wanted them.
As the two teams returned to the floor for the second half, the crowd only got louder and more into the game. Just as the first half had finished, Blind Brook turned the ball over on the very first play of the second half, a play that resulted in the Eagles’ most athletic player flushing the ball through the net in a dunk that ignited their student section. The jam visibly rattled the Trojans, who seemed taken aback and continued to struggle on the boards. Consecutive threes from Dobbs put them up 27-20, before a Grodin jumper, Aiello floater, and Chris Bucci layup brought the boys back to within one. The quarter ended with the scoreboard reading 30-28 in favor of the Eagles. It was anyone’s ball game.
Bucci came out right away with a strong take to the hole to start the fourth quarter. Tie game. Sachs then hit a rainbow three, before another Grodin midrange jumper put the team up 35-34. Grodin immediately took a charge on the other end, prompting a Dobbs Ferry timeout. Pace was rocking, just as the County Center had been three nights before. The game got a little scrappy, with both teams committing fouls and the Eagles missing a lot of free throws. With 59 seconds remaining, Bucci hit one of two from the line to put the group up 36-34. Dobbs responded with a clutch three with 38 seconds left to take the lead, followed by a steal and layup to go up by three points. It didn’t look good for Blind Brook at all. Enter Ryan Aiello. The junior guard came down the court and sank a deep three with 10.3 seconds left to tie the game at 39. The place went ballistic. The boys then got a stop on the defensive end, forcing the game into a four-minute overtime period.
The two teams exchanged a pair of free throws to begin OT. It was tense and would come down to which team executed under pressure in the closing minutes. The very next play was a dagger into the hearts of Blind Brook players and fans. A forward for the Eagles, who had not made a jump shot all day, banked home a straight on three from the top of the key that rolled around the rim for what felt like an hour after it hit the backboard. They followed that up with a bucket on the very next possession, taking a 46-41 lead with 1:47 remaining. Aiello went one for two from the line before Bucci was swatted in the paint, forcing the boys to foul and hope for missed free throws. The fouling continued for a while, ultimately seeing the Eagles take a 50-45 lead with 12.8 seconds left. At that point, the reality set in that Blind Brook had fallen just short.
The game finished with that very scoreline, as Dobbs Ferry celebrated their first Section One title in 52 years.
Bucci had 11 points and 12 rebounds, followed by Sachs who had 10, and Aiello who had nine. Knowing it would come down to how well they shot the ball, it simply wasn’t the team’s night, going just five of 21 from three-point range and 33% from the field. Bucci and Aiello joined opponents from the Eagles as well as the Valhalla Vikings to round out the Class B All-Tournament team. The Trojans finished an outstanding 20-4 on the year.
“This season, we surpassed everyone’s expectations and became the team we thought we could be,” Aiello said. “Obviously the finals loss was disappointing, but I am proud of this team and the way we battled through the whole season, including a 16-game win streak and a 14-point comeback win in the semifinals. Everyone counted us out at the beginning of the season, but we knew how good we could be and showed it. We are going to be in a similar situation next year where most people are counting us out. We have a lot of guys that are hungry to get back to Pace and I think we have a great chance to do so with the talent and dedication on this team.”
Surpassing expectations was a common theme throughout the year. No one thought they’d win 16 consecutive games, secure the #3 seed, or escape the County Center down 14 towards the end of the third quarter in a high-stakes semifinal. It was someone different every night who stepped up and made the big play, evidence of a truly special team. Blind Brook will say goodbye to a terrific senior class who made program history and showed their resilience and ability to overcome adversity in the most difficult of moments. It’s going to be a challenge again next year, but who’s to say the Trojans won’t be back where they left off...at Pace in March.
"Looking back on the season, I am very proud of this team," Sachs said. "We were doubted from the start after losing so many big players from the previous season, but we always believed in ourselves. It definitely stings the way we went out, being so close to the final prize, but we exceeded expectations with no regrets. We will all look back on this season with positive memories which is special."