Tonight was one of those nights where I’m just so glad basketball is back. As usual, the Byram Hills faithful put on a tremendous Friday night display, rocking the gym for what appears to be another contender for the County Center.
The Bobcats debuted with a 64-55 win over Fox Lane, but it wasn’t easy. The rebuilt Foxes looked much better than I expected even though they were replacing five starters and played without arguably their second best player. As you’ll read in my story, it was a positive step for Fox Lane just as much as it was for Byram.
In the end, the primary storyline was the continued maturation of Andrew Groll. The 6-foot-7 sophomore looked stronger, more poised and more confident in his second season on varsity. He delivered big in the fourth quarter when things were tightest.
It was also a welcome sight to see one of the section’s top guards, Jeff Lynch, back in action. He missed the semifinal against Tappan Zee at the County Center with an ankle injury that required two surgeries and forced him to sit out all summer. Lynch’s minutes were limited, but he scored 14 points in his return. As the signs said in the crowd, “Welcome back Jeff.”
ARMONK — They were deep into the second half and suddenly a resplendent first half that had the gym hopping meant nothing. Chants fell on deaf Fox Lane ears. Three-pointers stopped falling altogether.
So in the heat of another contentious fourth quarter, a veteran Byram Hills team turned to its youngest and not-so-secret weapon. The 6-foot-7 sophomore Andrew Groll responded with two key put backs to stave off a rally. He finished with 14 points and 18 rebounds as the Bobcats beat Fox Lane 64-55 in their season opener Friday.
“He’s sick, too,” Byram Hills coach Ted Repa said. “That was a warrior’s performance. I hope it continues.”
Groll’s play fueled another strong closing statement for a program that has grown used to authoring them. Seniors Jeff Lynch, Ryan Golden and Brian Skelly combined for three 3-pointers, but just one came in the second half.
The trio had led the Bobcats (1-0) on a 21-3 surge through the second quarter. They built a lead as high as 19 before Fox Lane (2-1) responded in kind, outscoring the host 22-11 in the third behind the play of James Morales (18 points) and Will Quaranta (10 points, six reobunds).
Then, back-to-back 3’s by Nik Bonura cut the Foxes’ deficit to 58-55 with just 1:19 to play. Groll’s subsequent 1-and-1 pushed the lead to six. Justin Pollack’s key steal on the next possession silenced any Fox Lane response.
But the most clutch play belonged to Groll, who gradually improved as a freshman but appears to have taken even another step forward.
“I’ve been playing with these guys since last summer, getting to know them and working with them,” Groll said. “I’m confident that they’ll find me. If not, I’ll run until they can.”
Skelly led Byram Hills with 16 points. Golden added 15 and six rebounds. Lynch had 14 in his first game back since the Class A quarterfinals. He missed the team’s loss to Tappan Zee at the County Center and has had two ankle surgeries since.
“He had the second surgery two months ago. He’s basically been practicing for only two weeks and only one week hard,” said Repa, whose team hosts Pelham at 8 tonight in the tournament championship. We’re trying to manage it as he builds up his strength, but he looked pretty good.”
Fox Lane coach Chris Violante shared similar enthusiasm about his team, which graduated the entire starting five from a Class AA semifinalist and played without key returner Carlito Carvalho.
“If that’s one of the four best teams in the section, like everybody’s saying, then the sky’s the limit with our team,” Violante said. “To come in here on a Friday night and play without probably our second-best player, that’s all I can ask for from these kids.”