by Tom Pedulla –
Members of the Dobbs Ferry boys’ basketball team left the Westchester County Center with heads held high.
No, they had not successfully defended their first Section 1 Class B title in 52 years, bowing to Valhalla 65-54 in the semifinal round. They had finished with a sterling 17-6 record despite graduating seven seniors, including four starters. And they had fought for all they were worth in a bid to repeat.
“I feel we had a really good season,” said senior guard Lester McCarthy. “With a lot of people graduating last year, nobody thought we’d make it back this far. To prove people wrong and actually make it back here is a good feeling. But not coming out with a win, it hurts a lot.”
Ryan McHugh, a senior center, echoed McCarthy’s sentiments.
“Seventeen wins and being a three seed, that’s a great accomplishment in itself right there,” he said. “To be a top four team, that’s what we were aiming for, besides the Gold Ball obviously.”
Throughout the season, the Eagles bore the unfamiliar burden of being defending champions. That was not easy.
“These kids had a target on their back, but they were a different team. That’s just the way it goes when you are defending Class B champions,” said Coach Scott Patrillo. “But it was a completely different team from last year’s team. It was composed differently. It was different guys. We had guys who were on the junior varsity team, guys who weren’t even playing last year.”
The coach empathized with the mix of pride and pain his players experienced when the season abruptly ended for a team stocked with 10 seniors. They had worked to develop their skills and come together as a unit since last summer.
“It’s hard. Your junior year you were on top of the world and your senior year you’re right there again and you come up just a little bit short,” Patrillo said. “You’re hurt, you’re sad, but there is nothing to be ashamed of.”
According to Patrillo, the Eagles had not put together consecutive seasons with such impressive records since the 1960’s. “To put that state appearance last year and back that up with a County Center trip after the graduation losses we had is darn impressive,” he said.
McCarthy earned All-Section honors in averaging a team-leading 14 points per game. McCarthy and McHugh were named All-Conference. McHugh, an imposing inside presence, averaged 10 points and eight rebounds. Power forward Chase Rowland asserted himself in his final season to join McCarthy and McHugh as All-League performers, averaging 12 points, seven rebounds.
In a sign of how well the Eagles came together, they swept through the key month of February undefeated.
“We definitely were buying into the same goal. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t,” McHugh said. “I wouldn’t take anything back from the season.”
Point guard Ryan Ritch, a talented junior, will be the lone returning starter next season. Sebastien Orlowski will be the only returning big man. Ryan Brunenaus, coming off a solid junior varsity campaign, will look to make a seamless transition to the varsity level.
“We have good players coming back next year,” said McCarthy. “They can definitely make another run. I have no doubt about any of our guys.”
Patrillo understands that great programs are able to sustain success year after year after year.
“We have a lot of work to do in the offseason,” he said. “The dedication and commitment to that from our players will be key to maintaining the success we’ve had. We can’t stress that enough.”