Thursday, March 5, 2009
Newtown, this year's Cinderella, upsets South Bronx
No. 24 Newtown pulled off another upset, knocking off No. 8 South Bronx, to advance to the PSAL Class A quarterfinals. Photo by Shirley To
By Zachary Braziller
The 24th-seeded Newtown Pioneers have Cinderella written all over them.
The team didn’t have a home gym for almost the entire year. The leading scorer, Jonathan Douglas, was a bit role player a season ago, scoring in single figures. The center, Ricky Rodriguez, didn’t even play until the season was almost entirely over because of academic ineligibility. He was only recently inserted into the starting lineup.
And to top it off, Anthony Saldarriaga was the hero of the Pioneers’ shocking 75-74 PSAL Class A boys’ basketball second round upset of No. 8 South Bronx. He served as the team manager last year to spend more time preparing for baseball season, but returned this winter.
He scored all three of his points in the final 40 seconds, including the winning free throw with nine seconds remaining.
“It’s nice,” co-coach Wayne Crawford said, “to be Cinderella.”
Douglas led Newtown with 34 points and Rodriguez followed with 11 points and 10 rebounds and Jaivon Blair had 10. Jonathan Rivera scored 24 points for South Bronx (23-6) and Dylan Davis had 12.
Facing the offensive juggernaut Phoenix without its star point guard, Dashawn Joyner, the Pioneers didn’t get off to a good start. They trailed 17-12 after the first quarter and 40-29 at halftime. They were giving up easy baskets and turning the ball over against South Bronx’s relentless press.
“At halftime our coach told us if we want to go home keep playing like that,” Douglas said. “We know what that meant.”
Without Joyner, however, who was suspended for the game for cutting class – he made a trip to White Castle instead, coach Doug Porter lamented – the Phoenix’s high-paced attack wasn’t quite as lethal.
Porter used guards Raymond Norman, Akeem Jennings, Delano Morgan and Davis at the point. None of them could properly orchestrate his high-flying attack. Instead of highlight-reel slams, balls were throws out of bounds.
“It was very selfish,” Morgan said. “Nobody’s mad at him. We still love Dashawn.”
Said Porter: “He just made a really bad decision. He got what he deserved.”
Led by the slashing Douglas, the Pioneers (16-9) hung around. The senior guard scored on a scoop layup at the buzzer of the third quarter to get Newtown within eight, 56-48, and start a 20-7 run that gave the underdog a 3-point lead, 66-63, with 3:49 to go. He scored 10 points in the spurt. Rodriguez added six.
“We had the will to win,” said Blair, the junior forward. “We never gave up.”
South Bronx got within one three times over the next two minutes, but Douglas was there with an answer at every juncture. His smooth right-handed floater across his body with 1:30 to go seemed to put the game away. But he fouled out on the next possession, the Pioneer’s top offensive threat sent to the bench.
“That scared me, but I believed in my teammates,” Douglas said. He approached Saldarriaga, told him “this is all on you; this is your game.”
After Saldarriaga extended the lead to three again with 40 seconds remaining, Rivera sent the capacity crowd into a delirious state by drilling a 3-pointer from the left wing. Norman inexplicably fouled Saldarriaga as he brought the ball up. Porter called timeout to ice him.
He had to wait an extra 10 seconds after breaking the huddle, the crowd hurling every insult in the book at him.
“I blocked everything out,” he said.
Eventually he got the ball. Saldarriaga took two dribbles, spun the ball in his hands, then took two more dribbles.
After Norman’s desperation 3-pointer came up well short, the celebration was on. Pioneers fist-pumped and hugged one another. Rodriguez even accidentally punched Douglas in the stomach during the jubilant scrum. He keeled over, a “beautiful pain,” Douglas called it.
“I guess,” Crawford said, “its karma. This is a wonderful thing.”
The emotional road win is nothing new to Newtown. They upset No. 9 Environmental Studies the week before, and won all 10 Queens A West league games. The Pioneers, in fact, struggled late in the year, when they got their home gym back. If anything, they feed off such an environment, reveling in adversity.
“Road warriors, that’s what are coaches have been preaching all year,” Douglas said. “It doesn’t matter where we play.”