Skyhawk guard scores 14 points in overtime for victory

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior guard AJ Monterossi scored a career-high 42 points including 14 in overtime to help the Skyhawks beat Central Catholic on Tuesday.

What differentiates average players from great ones is what they do when it’s winning time, when the game’s on the line and the contest’s outcome hangs in their hands.

On Tuesday, in overtime of a tightly-contested, high-strung contest with Central Catholic, Southridge guard AJ Monterossi continually rose to the occasion time and time again like great players do. When Southridge looked to Monterossi in the extra session tied up at 70 apiece, the cold-blooded senior delivered with a classic, one-man wrecking crew performance and successfully gave the Skyhawks a monstrous win.

Monterossi scored all 14 of Southridge’s points in overtime and went 10-12 at the free throw line on his way to a career-high 42 points, all of which were instrumental in a thrilling 84-80 overtime triumph. As the game’s intensity escalated, the Rams did everything in their power to keep the ball out of Monterossi’s mitts. Yet, the all-league guard kept finding ways to get open and repeatedly rolled the basketball off his right fingertips into the net at the charity stripe.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking, but you just have to ice it,” said Monterossi. “Once I see the first few go down, I know I have confidence. You have to make your shots when you get them and luckily I was able to do that today. I had some of my friends from Central Catholic say ‘Hey give us one (miss) here,’ but I’m glad I was able to do it.”

“He went off,” said junior Isaiah Reel of Monterossi. “It’s about time too, because he has the potential to do that every game. Let’s hope he keeps up it and keeps doing what he does.”

Monterossi gave Southridge a 72-20 lead in overtime after burying a pull-up jumper, then after a Central Catholic hoop, swished two free throws with 1:45 left to regain the lead, 74-72. Two possessions later, the lead guard with a lethal first step broke Rams’ press by himself, split a trio of defenders in the open floor, slithered into the lane and scooped home the lefty lay-in to go up 76-72 with 1:11 left.

Central Catholic kept the pressure on, scoring on three straight possessions in overtime, but Monterossi calmly and confidently made 8-10 from the line down the stretch to solidify the win. As the confirmed go-to guy for Southridge, who used the preseason as a test lab to see how much he should attack, and how much he should allocate to his teammates, the Ram contest was a personal breakthrough. Now, Monterossi knows he can take over games and come through in the clutch, which is only going to make the Skyhawks that much more dangerous in the Metro League.

“I’m a leader on this team this year, so I do what I have to do,” said Monterossi. “I pick my spots and find the open guys when they’re there. If we can just play together, then we end up winning, and that’s what happened today. It was a great win.”

While Monterossi will deservedly receive much of the postgame commendation and hail, the 5-foot-11 guard had a lot of help in erasing what was once a 45-32 third quarter deficit.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge junior wing Isaiah Reel scored 15 points in the second half to help erase a 13-point third quarter deficit for the Skyhawks.

Southridge was flat, foul-plagued and turnover-prone to start the third, so head coach Phil Vessel inserted the super-smooth Reel in hopes of getting a much-needed jolt off the bench. Reel, at that moment with 4:25 remaining in the third, took over the contest with nine points on an array of acrobatic finishes at the tin, deft lay-ups amongst the trees in the paint and powerful drives to the hole.

Saddled with three fouls in the first half, Reel was shot in the arm in the third by simply playing harder than everyone else on the hardwood and attacking without inhibition. After Hudson VanAllen drilled a three from the right corner, Southridge trailed just 53-47 at the end of the third.

“We just never gave up,” said VanAllen. “Most teams cave in, but we found a way to battle back. We never gave up on ourselves. The shots fell, our defense played hard too.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge sophomore wing Michael Seng drives baseline against a pair of Central Catholic defenders in the second quarter of the Skyhawks victory on Tuesday.

To boot, Reel ripped a three-ball from the right wing after a jump pass from VanAllen that brought Southridge within 53-50 at the start of the fourth quarter. On the next play, Reel drove left along the baseline, and wrapped a pass around two Rams to Brian Pete who pierced the game-tying three with 5:55 to go in the fourth, 53-53.

Reel scored all 15 of his points in the second half.

“You have a lot of time to think when you’re just sitting there,” remembered Reel. “I was sitting on the bench the whole first half, so I just had to use that energy. I came out strong. It’s all a mindset.”

Following a sporadic fray for a loose ball, Monterossi gave Southridge its first lead of the game since the first quarter after senior post Griff Christensen found him in the right corner for the go-ahead three, 58-55.

Christensen’s offensive board and putback pushed the lead to 64-59 and Monterossi’s two free throws ballooned the advantage to 68-62 with 1:02 to go in the fourth.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge wing Aly El-Mansy rises up for a mid-range jumper in the first quarter of the Skyhawks win over Central Catholic on Tuesday.

“We played it possession by possession,” said junior Parker Gaddis. “We took it each play at a time and didn’t focus on the score.”

Monterossi said Central Catholic was bigger and stronger than the Skyhawks, but once Southridge started boxing out better on the boards and creating extra possessions, the game’s outcome started to swing.

“Once we decided to be physical and go back at them, that’s what really did it for us,” said Monterossi. “We played as a team today. I think the fact that we didn’t we play the scoreboard and we came back against a good team like that says a lot. Knowing we can come back, battle back is big.”

Like a lingering fly in the ear of Southridge, Central Catholic rebutted the Skyhawks’ six-point buffer, turning two turnovers into buckets to make it 70-68 with 22 seconds to go.

Another Southridge turnover after a rigid Ram fullcourt press gave Central Catholic the ball back with 10.2 seconds left. Central Catholic’s point guard proceeded to cruise past the Skyhawk defense, drew a foul and made two free throws to tie the game, 70-70.

Monterossi actually had a chance to win it in regulation, but his pull-up jumper from the elbow hit the heal of the rim, setting up Southridge’s gutty overtime period. Christensen finished with 12 points while Pete poured in seven timely points. VanAllen hit two three’s as well.

“We had to get it done,” said Reel. “It was the last stretch and we had to everything we could to finish it off.”

“I think we all play well together,” added VanAllen. “We play 10 guys and our depth was a big, big part in us being successful. We know we can contend with elite schools now.”

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