The chirping, according to Nicholas Bliss, began following American Studies’ Nov. 28 victory over archrival Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy. And it continued last week when the two schools — separated by a mere two miles — met for the final time this season.
And yes, the trash talk continued.
“There definitely was a lot going on during the game,” said Bliss, American Studies’ senior guard. “We were both exchanging words during the game, probably not the nicest ones.”
RKA’s contention coming into the rematch was that it played the first game against the Senators without stellar big man Kai Parris, and that this time things would be different. The Senators’ feeling was that they were the better program, Parris or no Parris, and the second meeting would prove that once and for all.
And thanks to a 25-point, 14-rebound performance by Joaquin Rojas Tineo, American Studies broke open what had been a one-point game at halftime and rolled to a convincing 62-46 victory over RKA that not only clinched both a playoff spot and second place in the Bronx B-1 Division, but also gave the Senators a season sweep of the Tigers for the first time in school history.
“That makes it extra sweet,” American Studies coach Michael Hamlett said. “We hadn’t beaten them here at home in about 13 years, so to beat them twice this season feels great.”
The Senators (8-5) led 33-32 at the half and were having a difficult time handling Parris as RKA’s big man scored 18 points. But a defensive adjustment at halftime, along with the offensive production of both Rojas Tineo and Bliss, enabled American Studies to pull away and snatch bragging rights for the first time in many, many seasons.
“We came out in the second half in a 2-3 zone because we knew they had shooters,” Hamlett said. “But the zone kind of threw them off, and now (Parris) didn’t have room to operate. Every time he tried to drive the ball, we had two or three guys waiting for him.”
Parris was held to just eight points in the second half as the Senators built a 51-42 lead after three quarters and never looked back.
The game was of particular importance to Rojas Tineo, who attended RKA middle school and was playing against some old friends.
“I still keep in contact with a lot of those guys, a lot of my friends that I used to go to school with, and they were talking a lot,” Rojas Tineo said. “They were saying they were going to beat us and giving excuses about not having all their guys in the first game. But we just played them really tough, and we came out with the victory.”
For American Studies, it was a game the Senators were looking forward to for almost two months.
“This game was circled on our schedule,” said Bliss, who finished with 15 points. “I think we let our playing do all the talking we needed to do. They came in and thought they were going to win, and we came in thinking we had a really good shot, too. It just came down to who would play better.
“I thought we were the better team right from the start, and we came in and did what we had to do. We have a special team this year.”
Both teams are now off until Jan. 30, and RKA (6-7) has some work to do during that time to lock up a playoff spot. The Tigers will need to win two of its final three games against Marie Curie (3-10), Law & Government (13-0) and IN-Tech Academy (6-7). So it may come down to the final game of the season before the Tigers’ postseason fate is decided.
American Studies, on the other hand, is in the enviable position of closing out its season against a trio of teams — Academy for Language & Technology, Comprehensive Model School and Marie Curie — who own a combined 7-30 record. It’s an opportunity for the Senators to fatten up the record a little bit before playoff bids are handed out in early February.
“If we do what we need to do to finish out the season, we should win those last three games and finish out 11-5 and be on a five-game winning streak,” Bliss said. “And that’s exactly what we want to do going into the playoffs.”