By James Johnson-Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
BATAVIA – When win No. 600 went from foregone conclusion to fact Tuesday, after the countdown was over, well-wishers lined up and waited for Batavia Notre Dame boys basketball coach Mike Rapone.
There was really no need for any of them to hang around. If anyone wants a word with Rapone, they know where to find him on most weekdays.
Rapone’s assistant principal office is just feet from Batavia Notre Dame’s main entrance. If there is an issue with one of the school’s teams, Rapone is involved as athletic director.
Yet, the well-wishers did hang around after Batavia Notre Dame finished a season sweep of Kendall in Genesee Region league play with a 87-49 win.
“I’m excited about the atmosphere of this game,” Rapone said. “There are so many fans.
“It reminds me of how lucky, how fortunate I am to be at a school like Notre Dame. There are people whose kids played here 10-15 years ago, who came to the game tonight.”
They took pictures with Rapone, who spread his arms wide to pull the adults and children into the photo as much as possible. They teased him, and he joked back. They thanked Rapone, on his night, at his school, where he also coaches the baseball team.
“I couldn’t have drawn it up any better,” Rapone said.
The 450 people or so who fit inside Batavia Notre Dame’s gymnasium watched Rapone become the first coach in Section V history to reach 600 wins.
“He deserves it, he does everything for the school, cares for the kids,” Batavia Notre Dame guard Aaron McDonald said.
“He pushes kids when they don’t want to do something.
“He’s patient with you, but he makes sure you get your stuff done.”
Section V’s all-time wins leader moved to ninth on the state list.
“You see the T-shirts; he’s so loved by everyone here,” Batavia Notre Dame junior guard/forward Tommy Prospero said.
“He does everything.”
This is season No. 33 for Rapone as a varsity boys basketball coach, all at Batavia Notre Dame, where the Le Roy native graduated in 1971.
Most seasons have turned out well for Rapone and the teams he’s coached. Batavia Notre Dame has eight Section V titles in Rapone’s time as coach.
The Fighting Irish also have two state championships, the last in 2001, when his son “Mikey” was a guard on the team.
The latest edition is 14-0, and carried on a win streak at Batavia Notre Dame to 48 games.
“We’re aggressive,” Prospero said.
“We definitely like to push the ball and shoot 3s.”
Yes, the Fighting Irish do like 3-pointers, as they made 13 to shoot away from Kendall.
Prospero scored a game-high 26 points, including four 3-pointers, and had four steals for Batavia Notre Dame. Jared Thornton finished with 21 points and Tim McCulley 19.
“We’re really an athletic team,” Thornton said. “We like to force turnovers, get the ball upcourt and shoot 3-pointers.
“We don’t really have a big post player. I love it, it’s the best.”
Kendall and Batavia Notre Dame were off to slow starts when the score was tied 7-7 after a 3-pointer by Blue Devils guard Dan Kelly.
That changed after a 3-pointer, then a steal and layup by Thornton, with an awarded free-throw. Batavia Notre Dame went off on a 14-2 run in the final 2:30 of the opening quarter.
“We weren’t shooting that well in the first quarter,” Prospero said. “I don’t want to say we live and die with the 3-pointer, but it’s a huge part of why we win.”
So is Rapone, who was dressed in grey slacks and a blue sweater that included a Batavia Notre Dame logo, of course.
“Coach usually doesn’t smile that big before a game,” McCulley said. “He kind of looked like the Grinch.”