It was a tall order for the Orchard Park senior boys’ basketball team to fill.
With the teachers’ job action, the team only had three practices and one exhibition game before competing at the Southern Ontario Secondary School triple-A action Feb. 20 against the Niagara Falls’ A.N. Myer Marauders.
Now the Patriots were down by 12 points at the end of the third quarter, and earning double the many fouls as the home-town team, during the boisterous action at St. Paul’s High School gym in Niagara Falls.
But even as the game seemed to be getting away from the team, Patriots’ Coach Sava Gambiroza merely watched, and encouraged his players, who never backed off.
“I’m actually overwhelmed,” said Gambiroza, after Orchard Park fell 59-56. “They played it out to the last minute. A lot of them, this is their last year. At least they got to play ball. This is all these kids wanted to do.”
The Patriots dug themselves an early hole, scoring only 10 points and trailing Myer 16-10 in the first quarter. It wasn’t until reserve forward Bilauai Singh scored a couple of hard-earned baskets underneath, and Jovan Gambiroza, the coach’s son, added a bucket that helped to pull Orchard Park ahead of Myer 25 to 24 at the 1:49 minute mark of the second quarter. Still, at the half Myer led 31 to 27.
The Patriots continued their cold hitting during most of the game missing wide-open outside shots, and failing to corral the rebounds from the smaller, but pesky Myer players. Only Austin Kir nailed a three in the third quarter. The Patriots still trailed the Marauders 48 to 36.
But in the fourth quarter, facing their last game of the season, the Patriots rose up, with Raj Deal, Sunet Nayfil, and Kir somehow finding their range.
With the Patriots’ full-court press also starting to pay dividends with a few timely turnovers, and some bad decision making by Myer guards in the fourth quarter, Orchard Park managed to tie the score at 54 with 2:06 remaining. Myer took a two-point lead with 1:17 remaining.
With time and the ball, the Patriots attempted to tie the game. Kir, Deal, and Nayfil had shots bounce off the rim, and even thoughOrchardParkdominated the boards, they couldn’t put in the tying basket. The team had four tries at evening the score, but failed to find the bottom of the net. After Myer extended the lead to three, the Patriots cut the lead by one with eight seconds remaining. The Patriots put Myer on the foul line again, and the team extended its lead by three 59 to 56.
The Patriots attempt at a last second shot to tie the game was thwarted when Myer stole a pass and ran out the clock.
Both Kir and Deal ended up with 12 points each, while Nayfil chipped in with five.
Gambiroza took over the senior boys’ ball club after the school decided to take part in the SOSSA contest. Gambiroza is a boys coach in the local club ball organization.Orchard Park was one of the few Hamilton-area public schools that decided to participate in school sports starting in the new year. He said they haven’t been in a meaningful game since December.
“It was just a turnover at the end of the game,” said Gambiroza. “They kids put it all out there. I’m proud of them.”