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RKA rides Parris’ hot hand to edge American Studies

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Kai Parris was trying to forget his performance in Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy’s season-opening loss to IN-Tech last week. Sure, he scored 21 of the Tigers’ 34 points in that game, but the end result was still an ugly 18-point loss.

“That was a horrible game,” said Parris, the Tigers’ senior scoring machine. “Nothing was falling for me. So coming out for this game, I wanted to be a lot more aggressive and have short-term memory and not think about the last game. And that’s what I did.”

Let’s just say Parris isn’t thinking much about that IN-Tech game anymore as he erupted for 41 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as the Tigers held off the Senators 58-55 in a raucous, standing room-only RKA gym.

“I came out with the mindset that I’m taking this game over,” Parris said. “I said, ‘This is my game and this is what I’m going to do.’”

To say Parris came out of the chute on fire would be understating his performance a bit. He not only scored all eight of RKA’s points in the first quarter, but he tallied the Tigers’ first 20 points in the first half. In fact it wasn’t until Ethan Bonet scored on a layup with a little more than a minute remaining before halftime that someone other than Parris had nudged their way into RKA’s scorebook.

But the game was no runaway for RKA as American Studies’ Troy McLean was also on a torrid scoring binge with 15 first-half points, and the two teams went into halftime tied at 23.

But the Parris-McLean Shooting Show continued right after halftime with McLean’s layup handing the Senators a brief 25-23 advantage before Parris answered with a three-pointer to regain the lead for RKA.

But as McLean cooled off the rest of the third quarter, Parris did not, scoring 10 more points in the period to give RKA what looked to be a commanding 43-33 lead entering the fourth quarter.

But McLean rediscovered his stroke and posted 16 points in the final period to help American Studies take a 55-52 lead with under a minute to play. And visions of a road win danced in the Senators’ heads.

But a series of turnovers coupled with a few questionable referee whistles, and Parris, of course, spelled the end for the Senators. And when Parris converted a layup off a steal with 31.2 seconds to play, RKA had the lead for good at 56-55. Justin Goodman’s layup seconds later sealed the deal for the Tigers.

“That was one of my most memorable moments, hitting that layup to put us up,” Parris said. “That was a good moment right there.”

It also was a good moment for RKA coach Cole Benack, who posted his first career win as the Tigers’ head man.

“This was a nice way to open,” Benack said. “We had some big crowds last year when I was an assistant coach here, but this is the biggest one since I’ve been here. They were loud when they needed to be. It was nice to see.”

It also didn’t hurt having Parris on his roster for his first game, either.

“I’ve played high school basketball on the AA level, and I’ve never seen a player of his talent,” Benack said. “I’m very lucky to have him on my team.”

American Studies’ head coach Michael Hamlett was not feeling nearly as lucky after the loss, pointing to a lack of execution by his team and those calls that went against the Senators down the stretch as reasons for coming up short despite 37 points from McLean.

“We choked,” Hamlett said matter-of-factly. “We just couldn’t close it out. Also there were three bad calls. There were calls you didn’t call all game and you can’t make those calls with a minute left to decide the game.”

One of those calls, Hamlett said, came when American Studies was up by three with 55 seconds left, and a referee called a hand check on Damon Lawrence. “You can’t call that then if you weren’t calling it all game.”

Parris sees great things coming for RKA this season.

“We’re definitely a playoff team,” he said. “I can see that already, and we’re definitely going far, too.”

Hamlett sees a similar season coming for his Senators, too, despite the tough loss to RKA.

“This team is great,” Hamlett said. “The future is bright and they are going to be a good team once they learn to trust each other in the clutch and play with a little more heart. Then we could be very good.”

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