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BY KAITLYN MEADE | A nine-year basketball rivalry between two Downtown middle schools culminated in the season’s final showdown between the Manhattan Academy of Technology and I.S. 289.
“It’s a big rivalry,” said eighth grader Daniela Zirpolo, an M.A.T. Dragons’ team captain, and the only varsity player to be on the team since sixth grade.
On Fri., Jan. 25, the girls’ and boys’ teams hit the court to demonstrate their skills for over 500 people at M.A.T. in Chinatown. The girls played first, at 3:45 p.m., followed by the boys’ game at 5 p.m.
The Dragons started out strong in the girls’ game, with early points stacking up a sizeable lead. But the Lady Cougars from Battery Park City were determined and kept the ball in their court until 289’s Emma Simmel scored a basket.
The Dragons held the lead by halftime with 18 points and maintained it through the second half, widening their lead with choice shots by high scorer Zirpolo. Steals by the Cougars’ Althea Jackson de Rosa kept the Dragons working hard for their points. Cougar Audrey Kelly scored the last points with two free throws with 20 seconds left on the clock. M.A.T. won 28 to 9, making them number one in the league.
The boys’ game was closer, with a back and forth struggle for the ball with high turnovers. The M.A.T. boys won by a score of 38 to 30.
Derek Smith scored 18 points for M.A.T. and had 7 assists, and Tyler Kraehling, who played with a hurt finger, also came through for his team.
I.S. 289 was led by point guard Kobi Greene and William Liotti, who tipped in a basket at the third quarter buzzer.
M.A.T. coach John De Matteo said, “I thought that it was a great event for the community and I was very proud of how my kids played and how my school rallied around our team.”
He was echoed by his counterpart, Blake Hepburn, who coaches the team as part of Manhattan Youth’s afterschool program. He said the crosstown showdown “really gives the kids the feeling that they’re playing on a high level.”
The post-season games have yet to be played and both schools will be working towards the league’s championships in February.