FREEDOM PLAINS – Zaahir Woody grabbed a rebound with 46 seconds remaining. While dribbling up court, he gazed toward his bench and flashed a wide grin.
His team had an 18-point lead so the buzzer sounding would be a mere formality.
The gleeful Roy C. Ketcham fans began chanting, “This is our house!” It wasn’t. But for a day, in that moment, the Arlington High School gym did belong to them.
After being swept in the regular season by the Admirals, ninth-seeded Ketcham pulled off a playoff rout of their rival, 67-49, on Saturday in the first round of the Section 1 Class AA boys basketball tournament.
“We’re in savage mode,” Woody joked afterwards. “It’s time to take over!”
The senior did take over, scoring 25 of his 31 points in the second half to lead the Indians’ upset of No. 8 Arlington. It was Ketcham’s first playoff victory in a decade, coach Mike Paino said. So, who better to earn that against than a bitter rival?
But there was a bit more to that mirthful smile Woody still wore several minutes after the game.
Woody also stars for the Ketcham football team. He scored four touchdowns in an eye-popping performance against Arlington last fall. But his team lost, when the Admirals scored a last-minute touchdown. He dropped 29 points when the basketball teams squared off last month. But his team lost, when the Admirals came from behind late.
He is friends with a number of those opponents and has been hearing all about it since September. A few jokes on social media, too. This, finally, was the rebuttal.
“This isn’t just for us,” Woody said. “It’s also for the football team. We came in here with a mission trying to prove ourselves and prove everyone wrong. And everyone contributed to this.”
Jahri Mosley, whose crossover dribbles proved difficult to stop, scored 17 points for Ketcham (12-9). Darryl Sullivan added 10 points and nine rebounds. He and David Henry performed admirably in the post, helping contain Arlington’s 6-foot-6 center Shane Walczyk.
“Zaahir is a stud, but we had secondary players step up,” Paino said. “That was the difference from our previous games against them. We were able to alleviate some pressure off Zaahir.”
The Indians visit top-seeded Mount Vernon in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Ketcham lost to Mount Vernon, 72-52, in December. But the score was close in the first half and “we showed we belonged on the court with them,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to compete and it’s going to be a battle.”
Paino said it will require physical defense to match the Knights, and his team won’t be able to afford turnovers. Prep work for that begins Monday.
Against Arlington, the Indians ended the first quarter on a 10-0 run. Jimmy Nardelli’s spin move and layup with 4:10 left gave them an 8-7 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“Both teams are just excited to have practice on Monday,” said Meg Nardelli, a member of the Ketcham girls basketball team. They edged Mount Vernon, 57-56, earlier on Saturday before rushing to Arlington to see the boys win. “That was the goal for both teams, to have a reason to practice on Monday.”
Walczyk (19 points) pulled the Admirals within 21-20 on free throws in the second, but Woody answered with a three-point play, converting a reverse layup through contact. Mosley’s driving layup made it 26-20 with 0.4 seconds remaining in the half.
Arlington closed within five midway through the fourth, but Ketcham outscored them 20-7 in the last four minutes to make the score lopsided.
“We did our job defensively,” Mosley said. “We wanted to hold them to 10 points each quarter, and we came close. We held them to seven in the first and that set the tone.”
John Smith scored 11 points for the Admirals (12-8). Dan Duffy and Zac Dingee each added six.
Ketcham fans — the “Krazies” as they’re called — filled half the stands at Arlington and were loud throughout. For the first time in a while, the fourth quarter offered them an opportunity to shout back at Arlington spectators, “Check the scoreboard.”
“I didn’t even expect to get a turnout like this,” said Ketcham senior Kelly McConologue, whose battle with leukemia became a rallying point for her school’s athletic teams a year ago. She now is in remission and, if the verve demonstrated in the stands on Saturday was any indication, she appears in high spirits. “It’s awesome being in the stands and experiencing something like this,” she continued. “Everyone is pumped.”
Perhaps no one more than Woody. Because now, when he runs into his Arlington buddies, the smile will suffice.
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4