- December 10, 2020
For a moment, it looked like Riverview High's boys basketball team was going to pull off a whopper of a comeback.
The Rams (21-8) trailed Windermere High (21-6) by 11 points at the half Tuesday night in a Class 7A regional semifinal. The Rams were the higher seed and hosted the game, but in many ways, Windermere was the favorite. No small reason for that was Wolverines junior Sean Stewart, a Duke commit ranked the No. 28 player in his class by the 247Sports Composite.
Riverview hung with the Wolverines in the first quarter, even taking the lead by the end of it, but an 18-1 run by Windermere in the second quarter put the Rams in a bad position.
And yet, there was a moment. Riverview began playing better defense and taking better shots in the third quarter. A three-pointer by senior guard Pete Goldberg cut the Windermere lead to five points, 43-38, in the third quarter. The jam-packed crowd went crazy. A group of Riverview students even showed off the "R-A-M-S" letters they had painted on their chests. The quarter ended with the Rams down eight, a comeback thoroughly within reach.
It was not meant to be. Stewart took over in the fourth quarter, finishing with 18 points, and the Rams started pressing, missing shots they normally make. The final score, 61-48, belies how close the game was when the Rams were playing their best.
"We just could not get over the hump," Rams coach Rudy Fraraccio said. "We played just five or six guys and they emptied their tanks. I'm pleased with our effort. … It was a good season. Just not a great second quarter."
Senior forward Jaron Glover led the Rams with 14 points. Freshman wing Jamier Jones had 11 points and Goldberg had 10 points.
The loss will sting, but Rams fans have plenty of reasons to be excited about the program's future. The team had nine new players this year including all-world freshman Jones. It was always going to take them a while to gel. They'll lose heart-and-soul players such as Goldberg and forward Jackson Dawson — whom, I should add, had quite an impressive rebound over Stewart in the fourth quarter, ripping the ball from him — as well as Glover, who added athleticism in the post this year and is headed to Michigan State for football. But being able to build around Jones and junior Jason Jackson means the Rams will continue to be competitive.
That is no small feat in the Rams' region, which is one of the toughest in Florida among all classes. Outside of Windermere and the Rams, the region also includes Dr. Phillips High, which features Kansas commit Ernest Udeh Jr., and Olympia High, which features uncommitted four-star Edgerrin "Jizzle" James Jr. (Yes, that is the son of Hall of Fame Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James. You have my permission to feel ancient. I certainly do.) All that talent will make the next few seasons a dogfight come the playoffs. Fraraccio knows this. It's why he's proud of his team for getting this far, even if he feels like they could have gone even further with a few hindsight adjustments.
"We stumbled out of the gate but we had some good experiences and brought another district championship to Riverview High," Fraraccio said. "But I sure would have liked to have had this one."
Other than the girls basketball final four and the individual wrestling championships, which wrap up next weekend, the winter sports season is now over. With that, high school sports fans can turn their attention to spring, which is already off to a roaring start.
Riverview fans unhappy about the boys basketball team's finish can take solace in the school's baseball team, which got its season started Monday with an 8-2 win over Braden River High. Pip Smalley, one of the players I mentioned in my spring preview last week, has already begun to prove me right. Smalley, a senior, went two for three with two triples and two RBI in the win. The Rams used five pitchers and four of them kept the Pirates scoreless, a good sign for their bullpen depth.
I also want to give a shout-out to the Sarasota boys lacrosse team, which won another game since my last column. The team actually came close to starting 3-0 but lost 11-8 to Northside Christian on Feb. 19. Again, this is a program that went 1-11 in 2021, it's first real season in existence. The job head Coach Christian Dombovari has done making the Sailors competitive in such a short time is impressive.
Finally, I wanted to end on an oddity. It's been a while since I have seen something like this. Sarasota Christian's baseball team started its season with a 23-2 win over Port Charlotte Community School on Tuesday. An impressive score on its own. But what if I told you that in that win, three Blazers pitchers combined for a no hitter? Yes, despite giving up multiple runs, the Blazers did not allow PCCS to get a hit. Sarasota Christian pitchers Alexander Hefti, a sophomore, James Featherston, a freshman, and Randall Collins, a freshman, were responsible for the feat. They combined to walk five hitters and, somehow, two of them scored without the help of a base hit. I don't want to dwell on that part too much because it takes away from the "no hitter" part, but it's just as interesting in its own way.
I'm not sure if the fact that the game ended after four innings because of the mercy rule makes all of this happening more or less unbelievable, but it does make it more unique. There's a lesson in it, too: Whenever you attend a sporting event, you never know what you are going to see.