As you enter the cozy confines of Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy’s gym, you can’t help but notice the banners adorning the walls chronicling the school’s athletic achievements from the past decade or so. There are 18 banners in all, celebrating successes in every sport from softball to wrestling to soccer.
The Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy, or RKA, will now have to make room for another banner at some point soon—this one honoring the boys’ basketball team, as the Tigers’ 57-38 victory over Health Opportunities High School last Friday night locked up the PSAL B1 Division crown for RKA.
For a program that won just two games two seasons ago and reached the playoffs last season for the first time in seven years, grabbing a division title was something to be celebrated—even if it came as a bit of a surprise.
“We weren’t sure what we were going to be able to do this year and what the B Division would look like,” said junior guard Jaiden Lewis, who led the Tigers with 19 points in the win. “But we did pretty well.”
That might be understating it a bit, as the Tigers (12-2) came into the game winners of seven of their last eight, with the lone blemish on their ledger coming in a one-point loss at Jane Addams back on Jan. 13.
Since that defeat, there have been three convincing victories, and with just two regular-season games remaining vs. American Studies on Feb. 2 and the Academy for Language and Technology on Feb. 7—teams with a current combined record of 6-20—a few more victories are sure to be coming the Tigers’ way as they look to build a strong resume for seeding purposes in the upcoming Public School Athletic League (PSAL) playoffs.
But first things first, like how the Tigers went about crafting their latest victory. It happened the way it usually does for RKA—with a sudden burst of offense coming off defensive stops that lead to bushels of points in a hurry.
The Tigers were leading, 19-15, in the early moments of the third quarter, as some lackluster play on the part of RKA helped keep Heath Opportunities in the game. But with a couple of defensive tweaks at halftime, RKA finally found its stride, and within minutes a close game turned into a laugher.
Three straight buckets by Lewis started the decisive run, which was followed by a long three-pointer by William Feldman. Feldman then added a layup before Lewis converted a three-point play. Jalen Cuello then added a jumper before Lewis closed out the 18-3 run with a steal and a layup which gave RKA a commanding 37-20 lead with just over a minute to play in the third quarter.
“The coaches made a change of defenses at halftime and that really helped us get rebounds and push out and that’s what we do best,” said Feldman, who finished with 15 points. “Pushing the ball up the floor really makes our offense flow.”
Health Opportunities made one last attempt to get back into the game, cutting the RKA lead to 39-32 with 5:54 to play. But five straight points from Feldman helped ignite a 9-0 spurt that bumped the Tigers’ lead back to 48-32 and the victory was sealed.
RKA head coach John Reingold said his team’s penchant for playing a fast-paced game is what sets the Tigers apart from their opponents.
“We play a very up-and-down game. It’s like a heavyweight fight and it wears on the other team,” Reingold said. “So in the first half we might not get that extra step to the basket but by the third quarter we’re two or three steps out front of the defense and that makes it a little bit easier for us. In the third quarter we outscored them, 20-7, and that was the knockout.”
Reingold said he’s not all that interested in RKA’s latest banner hanging, whenever that will occur. He, instead, has his sights set on something else, like making the Tigers’ presence known once the PSAL playoffs tip off in late February after the school’s winter break.
“I don’t know exactly what [RKA] is going to do,” Reingold said of any banner raising. “Division titles are nice for the kids but I like making deep playoff runs. That, to me, is more significant.”
So while the playoffs are still a few weeks away, the Tigers will occupy themselves until then with trying to earn as many wins as possible to enhance their seeding prospects. But Feldman warns the Tigers can’t take any of their last couple of opponents lightly despite their losing records.
“Now it’s all about seeding and we’re trying to get the highest seed possible,” Feldman said. “But we can’t think that we’re just going to run over these teams. We have to come in with a game plan like always because if you come in overconfident any team can beat you. It doesn’t matter how bad they are. So we’re just going to play our game and hopefully we can run the table.”