Laurel too much for Riverside
Laurel (77) Vs. Riverside (60)
By JOE SAGER
The Laurel High boys basketball team didn’t earn a championship by beating Riverside on Friday night.
After all, WPIAL Section 2-AA play just started.
However, the Spartans took a positive step toward a potential league crown with the 77-60 triumph over the Panthers.
“They have had our number since I have been here,” said Laurel senior Jake Dando. “It’s my first win against them in my four years. It’s special.”
The streak lasted longer than four years. The victory snapped an 11-game skid against Riverside. Laurel’s last win over the Panthers came on Dec. 23, 2003 — a 51-29 home rout.
“It’s been a while. Riverside has a very good program. They’ve been outstanding and they’ve had our number,” Laurel coach Mike Tinstman said. “It’s a great win. In this league, every team is strong. You have to win the ones at home. There is really no time to relax. We go to Rochester on Tuesday, so we’re just taking one step at a time.”
The Spartans (1-0 section, 3-1 overall) appeared poised to run away with the game early. They bolted to a 9-0 lead and held a 16-8 edge at the end of the first quarter.
Shane Caldararo tortured Riverside (0-1, 3-1) under the basket for 15 of his 19 points in the first half before foul trouble sent him to the bench. Nevertheless, Laurel carried a 36-27 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Caldararo picked up his third foul early in the third. Dando did the same shortly after as both players sat on the bench for the rest of the period. In that time, the Panthers unleashed a fierce comeback and trimmed their deficit to six points, 41-35, at one point.
“They made a run,” Tinstman said. “They are a very good team. They are going to be in every game and, if you’re not prepared, they are going to come back and bite you.”
The Spartans were able to fend off the charge and settled for a 46-36 edge at the end of the stanza.
In the fourth, with Caldararo and Dando back on the floor, Laurel took charge and attacked the basket. The hosts expanded their seven-point lead, 52-45, to 15 points, 60-45, in a span of 36 seconds on 3-point plays from Tyler Forbes and Dando and two Dando free throws with 3:40 remaining.
Riverside cut that margin to 69-60 with more than a minute to go, but the Spartans, especially Dando, secured the victory at the foul line. In the fourth quarter, Dando swished 12 of 14 attempts from the charity stripe and netted 18 of his game-high 23 points.
“I was just trying to get to the foul line and get some rhythm there and see what I could do,” he said. “I sat out most of the third, so I was pretty fresh.”
As a team, Laurel connected on 18 of 22 foul shots in the final frame. Not bad, considering four starters — Eric Wallas, Caldararo, Forbes and Dando — had little preseason basketball practice time since the Spartans’ successful gridiron season lasted deep into the WPIAL playoffs.
“This senior group has a lot of experience. They are good shooters. Hopefully, in the next couple weeks, we’ll get even better and get our touch back,” Tinstman said. “We’re still not where we’re capable of being. We’re getting better and better, but it’s still going to take us some time to get to that point.
“At the beginning of the game, we were taking the ball to the basket. That’s our strength; most of these kids are football players with natural strength,” he continued. “In the third quarter, we were almost hesitant and on our heels. Riverside created some turnovers and transitioned and we made some poor decisions with the ball. In the fourth quarter, we became more aggressive and that’s what we have to do. We have to be aggressive and not sit back.”
Dando added 11 rebounds and five assists to his game-high point totals. Caldararo finished with 19 points and eight rebounds. Wallas had 13 points, while Forbes added 10 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. The Spartans got valuable minutes from their younger bench players, too.
“We got in some foul trouble, but the young guys stepped up for us,” Dando said.
Tinstman agreed: “Everybody played well. The young kids came off the bench and did a nice job for us.”
Jake Thellman and Mason Marion both led Riverside with 14 points. Zac Rorick had 13, while Josh Anderson contributed 11 markers.