Volume 17, Number 45 | April 1 — 7, 2005

Youth

Cougars avenge their season’s only loss

The I.S. 89 Cougars’ defense was too much for the Lab school last week as the Cougars beat the only team that beat them this season.
Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

By Zachary Roy

The only team to come between the I.S. 89 Cougars boys’ team (15-1) and an undefeated record has been the Lab Gators (8-4). Thursday afternoon at Lab, the Cougars had their long-awaited chance to avenge their January 13 53-44 loss to the Gators.

I.S. 89 coach Blake Hepburn, tired of watching his team coast past inferior teams, had worked for weeks to schedule the rematch against the Gators, whom he considered to be a formidable opponent. But the outcome was the same old story as the Cougars cruised to a 69-44 win.

“The coach from Lab said they didn’t have two of their better players, which was unfortunate,” a slightly disappointed Hepburn said. “I don’t know how much of a difference they would have made actually because they met us the first time early in the season, and at this point it would have been a really tough game for them to have beaten us, because we’ve gelled as a team and the better the competition, the stronger they get.”

Players from both teams seemed to take to heart the magnitude of the rematch as turnovers and poor shooting characterized the opening minutes. Hepburn said that aside from the anticipation of a rematch against the only team that beat them, his team’s early shooting woes could have also been a result of playing a rare road game, in an unfamiliar gym.

Whatever the reason was for the early offensive deficiencies, the Cougars, coached by Manhattan Youth, made up for it by smothering the Gators with their trademark full-court pressure and trapping defense, creating turnovers and converting them into easy fast-break points. At the end of the first quarter, a Grits Gittens steal and lay-up extended the Cougars’ lead to 15-4.

Lab finally showed signs of the team that gave the I.S. 89 fits two months ago, when they reeled off 11 unanswered points to cut the deficit to 25-18. A frustrated Hepburn called a timeout with a minute left in the first half to refocus his team. “I told them not to make the same mistakes we’ve made before when we think we have the game wrapped up and we get lackadaisical,” he said. “If a team gets on a run, they get the momentum going and before you know it they’re ahead.”

Taking their coach’s words to heart, the Cougars scored the last four points of the half, including a Tyler Sinclair steal and layup, to regain their double-digit lead at halftime. “Tyler has been our sparkplug all year,” Hepburn said. “He has this ‘will not lose’ attitude and he brings it all every game on both ends of the court.”

The Cougars outscored the Gators 20-8 in the third quarter to clinch the win. Four different Cougars finished the game in double figures. Gittens 21 points were a game-high, but his biggest contribution came on defense where he grabbed nine steals. Power-forward Robbie Duran, like Gittens, narrowly missed a double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds. Sinclair added 19 points.

Tuesday, in what might have been the final game of the season, the Cougars topped Clinton for the third time this year, 72-47. Gittens again led the way with 19 points, while Duran got his elusive double-double with 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

Hepburn is trying to schedule one more game, ideally against Wagner, who boasts an undefeated record.

The I.S. 89 girls’ team ended its season with a 7-7 record after a 38-28 defeat at home to Clinton. Cougar point-guard Jenny Wu swished a season-high three three-pointers in the loss. Cougar coach Cecilia Dobbs said the team must improve its defense for next season.

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