Red Hook's state-ranked and unbeaten boys basketball team has made a habit of breaking out to a nice lead and then having to hold off a charging opponent in the late stages of the game.
Friday night's rematch of last year's Mid-Hudson Athletic League championship game against Ellenville followed the same script as Red Hook held on for a 72-67 victory over the Blue Devils at Red Hook.
Joe Stortini, who led the Raiders with a game-high 30 point outburst, thought Red Hook should have put this game away.
" We should have blown them out," said Stortini. " That was a crazy ending. It seems to happen but I don't know why. Its happened the last three games."
" We just stop running our offense and we start taking stupid shots when we still have a lot of time left on the shot clock," he continued. " We have to pull it out more and use more time."
With Stortini leading the way, it looked like Red Hook might run the Blue Devils, the 20th ranked Class B team in the state, right out of the gym.
Stortini drained two treys and bucketed three more hoops during the opening stanza to end up with a dozen points in the first eight minutes of play. With Sean Michitsch adding five points during the period, the Raiders led 19-8 when the opening buzzer sounded.
" We had good ball movement, we had guys open and we just hit our shots," said senior forward, Michitsch about how the Raiders got off to their fast start. " I was feeling it, especially in the first quarter," smiled Stortini. " Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way in the second half. I was a little surprised at how open they left me. I was expecting more double-teams. I just kept taking the shots that they gave me."
Red Hook's offense cooled down a bit in the second period but they still outscored the Blue Devils 10-7 to take a 29-15 lead at intermission.
The home team couldn't seem to maintain the same defensive intensity in the second half and Ellenville mounted a charge.
George Stjupan, playing his first game of the season after a foot injury sustained during preseason, was saddled with early foul trouble which allowed Blue Devils big man, Mark Candelario, more breathing room in the paint. Candelario poured in 10 points in the third period and Ellenville sliced the lead down.
" We knew he was big and that we would need to play big and crash the boards and we did a pretty good job," Stjupan said. " In the third quarter, they just started hitting their shots and that's what changed it."
" We just weren't used to the size of him," said Michitsch of Candelario 6-foot-8 frame. " We knew they were going to come out strong in the third period so we just had to keep things going but we lost a little bit there."
When Red Hook's defense started collapsing around the big man, Candelario would kick the ball out to Chris Young. The sharp-shooting Young, banged a trio of 3-pointers for 11 points in the third quarter to help Ellenville outscored the Raiders 27-19 to whittle the Red Hook advantage to 48-42 entering the final eight minutes of action.
The frantic final period had the cozy gym rocking as the Blue Devils got within three points midway through the period. With Red Hook clinging to its lead and Ellenville doing a better job defensively on Stortini, the rest of the Raiders stepped up to hit some big shots.
Nolan Parr buried a pair of clutch 3-pointers with Mike Rogers nailing a pair of long jumpers and a layup in the game's final seconds to spark the crowd. Paddy Parr put the finishing touches on the Blue Devils when he calmly sank a pair of free throws in the game's final seconds.
" When other teams are double-teaming me, I can kick it out and count on my teammates to make the shots when we need them," said Stortini. " Its perfect."
In addition to Stortini's 30 points, the Raiders received 14 points from Sean Michitsch and eight from the returning Stjupan.
" Its feels pretty good," smiled Stjupan when asked how it felt to be back on the court. " I've been waiting for this for a long time. I have been preparing myself for this game and thinking it through in my head."
Mike Rogers added all of his seven points in the decisive fourth period. Nolan Parr hit both of his treys during the second half with Paddy Parr's five points also coming in the final stanza.
When asked what coach Rod Chando had to say to the team after the game, Stortini grinned before answering.
" He was happy because we got the win and that's what matters but I'm sure he'll go watch the tape and he'll be on us tomorrow morning at practice about some of the plays we made."
The win lifts Red Hook's record to 11-0 overall and 9-0 in the Mid-Hudson Athletic League. The Raiders are currently the 9th ranked team in New York State in Class A.