Using the past as motivation, Saratoga Catholic pounced on Fort Plain Friday night in a Western Athletic Conference boys’ basketball game.
“We knew we had to come out strong. Fort Plain is not a bad team,” senior guard Pat O’Rourke said after sparking the Northern Division-leading Saints to a 70-55 victory. “They came out strong the last time we played and gave us a scare. We knew we had to be that much better.”
Saratoga Catholic (7-0, 10-3) raced to a 27-9 first-quarter lead, and when O’Rourke dropped in two free throws 72 seconds into the next period, the Saints’ lead had grown to 25, at 34-9. They weathered a mild fourth-quarter comeback by the Hilltoppers (3-4, 7-5), and went on to prevail for the ninth game in 10 games.
“We were down at the half, 22-16, when we played at their place [on Dec. 5]. We went on a 35-5 run and ended up winning by 20, 62-42],” said Saints coach John Catone. “At the half, I gave them one of those Lombardi-type speeches.”
None were necessary Friday night, with the Saints, behind O’Rourke’s 19 first-half points, owning a 39-22 advantage. O’Rourke finished with a season-high 30 points and four steals, while rugged 6-foot-2 senior forward Ryan Knotek collected 20 points, 10 rebounds and three steals.
“This was a make-or-break week for Fort Plain,” Catone said, noting the Hilltoppers had lost to second place Fonda-Fultonville Tuesday in overtime, 50-47. “I told my guys, ‘If we came out slow, and they get their energy back and start believing, we could be in some trouble.’ We wanted to get after them.”
O’Rourke scored 10 first-quarter points, including a three-point basket with 1.5 seconds left, Knotek delivered eight points, and all of the Saints dug down defensively while pounding the boards.
“We’ve done that a couple of times,” Catone said of the blistering start, which included scoring spurts 6-0, 6-0 and 9-0. “We are a transition team. When we get teams to get into that running game, we go on runs like that.”
“Spa Catholic is a very good basketball team, and in that first quarter, they let us have it,” said Fort Plain coach Casey Russom, whose ’Toppers had won six straight games before this week. “We turned it over and they made every shot.”
“I really liked the way we played defense, and our intensity. We got after it,” O’Rourke said. “All five players were gettting on the floor for loose balls, and we were rebounding and getting putbacks.”
Saratoga Catholic followed its 9-0 run to close the first quarter with a 7-0 run to begin the second. Knotek scored on a drive before O’Rourke hit a three and his two foul shots as the lead ballooned to 25.
“We were letting them get second, third and fourth shots, and even though we were beating their press, we turned the ball over too much,” Fort Plain senior guard Shayne Hinkle said of the first half. “That led to points for them.”
Hinkle topped Fort Plain with 17 points, 13 coming in the fourth quarter when the visitors drew within nine. Elijah Braemer added 14 points, and Chris Gattman had six points and 11 rebounds.
“At the half, I told my team this is about pride,” Russom said. “I thought Shayne and Elijah played very well for us.”
Hinkle produced 11 consecutive points for his team on three three-pointers and a layup before Brad Bowers’ layup made it 62-53 with 3:26 to play. The Saints closed the contest with an 8-2 spurt which Logan Valenty began with a three-point play.
“We got a little sloppy. A little lazy, but we did a lot of good things up to that point,” Catone said. “We’re 10-3 and we haven’t played a whole 32 minutes yet, and that’s something I’m waiting for. We get in lulls when we get double-digit leads.”
Cutspec 1-0-2, Braemer 6-1-14, Bowers 2-2-7, Thomas 1-0-2, Gattman 1-4-6, Hinkle 4-6-17, Resch 2-0-4, Smith 1-0-3. Totals: 18-13-55.
P. O’Rourke 9-8-30, Knotek 7-6-20, K. O’Rourke 2-0-4, Carlson 1-4-6, Flinton 1-0-2, D. O’Rourke 1-0-2, Valenty 1-2-4, Morency 1-0-2. Totals: 23-20-70.
Fort Plain 9 13 14 19 — 55
Saratoga Catholic 27 12 14 17 — 70
Three-point goals: Braemer, Bowers, Hinkle 3, Smith, P. O’Rourke 4.
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