Taking care of children is something that every governor should do. And this past Friday, Clinton did just that.
Receiving stout offensive performances from the quartet of Aldemar Peralta (16 points), Taijon Johnson (12), Jordan Whitehead (12) and Saul Gonzalez (10), the Governors topped Evander Childs 58-53 in a key divisional game. The victory now squares the Governors’ record at 5-5 in the Bronx A Northwest Division.
“It was a tough battle, but we knew that coming in,” Clinton head coach Chris Ballerini said. “When you’re playing a team as good as Evander, who’s currently 8-2 in the league, you need to make positive plays to get the crowd involved.”
Despite losing the opening tip, Whitehead set the tone immediately for Clinton with an emphatic block against the glass on Evander’s first possession.
“It really got the crowd going, and when the crowd gets hyped, it really gets to us,” Whitehead said. “All of our emotions come out on the court when the crowd is involved.”
This momentum quickly placed sophomore standout Saul Gonzalez in the spotlight as he logged two assists while shooting a perfect 2-for-2 from beyond the arc in the first quarter.
“I always wanna get the ball and let it fly,” Gonzalez said. “I was trying to get my team energized and get buckets early on. It hyped up the team.”
Now with both the Governors and their crowd “hyped up,” Clinton seemed destined to roll.
“When that momentum starts going the Clinton way, it’s tough to stop it,” Ballerini said. “I wouldn’t want to be the opposing coach when that goes down.”
Whitehead continued to do work down low, scoring six of Clinton’s 15 points in the second quarter.
“Every time I get the ball, I want to put it through the basket,” Whitehead said. “I just know that I can’t get nervous and that I need to remain calm.”
Quiet to this point, Peralta then provided the next energy boost for Clinton players and fans alike just before the halftime buzzer sounded when he was fouled attempting to launch a deep 3-point attempt from the top of the key. Peralta landed on the ground as he watched his shot hit nothing but net.
“He’s giving us a great lift,” Ballerini said. “Peralta isn’t only a defensive player, he gives us more looks from the outside, too. He can knock down the outside shot.”
Peralta dusted himself off, converted the free throw, and the team headed to the locker room with the lead, 29-25.
Peralta added to his strong game in the second half, scoring 12 crucial points, including three free throws in the waning moments of the game that sealed the deal for Clinton.
Johnson was not too shabby, either, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the second half.
“I told my teammates to play with their heart and to keep building momentum,” Johnson said.
Clinton’s ability to score this season is something that opponents aren’t accustomed too, Ballerini said.
“At Clinton, we’ve always been known as a defensive team,” the coach said “But if we can get a few more easy baskets, then we become a real tough out.”
Clinton was also solid from the charity stripe, converting 12-of-15 free-throw attempts.
“Little things are important when you play teams like Evander,” Ballerini said. “You have to be able to hit it from the free-throw line, and we’ve been consistent with it this year. We focus on it at practice ,and it’s really paid off during the games.”
The victory just might prove to be the catalyst for the rest of the Governors’ season.
“It was a big, big game for us,” Whitehead said.
“Now we’re at 5-5 and it’s going to get our season going. We’re almost there. We just have to keep playing like we can, keep rolling and keep winning.”
For Ballerini, having the Governors crowd present at games will be a huge advantage.
“Of our last six games we have four at home, and that’s an absolutely massive thing,” he said. “It’s an honest pleasure to coach here at Clinton. Not only the history that we have, but also the crowd that comes here to support. We have the best fans in the city, we appreciate those fans and we always want to give them a win.”
With fan support and a motivated team, making a playoff run is the logical outcome.
“We have some tough games coming up, but we’re happy right now,” Ballerini said. “We want to get out on the court (and play). Every day at practice we have guys smiling and it’s fun to be around.
“I think the sky’s the limit here as we go down the stretch.”