Because of a scheduling quirk, the Riverside boys basketball team had two weeks off after its season opener, a thrilling 57-54 overtime win at Benjamin Logan Nov. 27.
But a fortnight in dry-dock didn’t leave any rust on the Pirates.
Kicking off string of five basketball games in eight days, Riverside bolted out of the gate, thumping Lima Temple Christian, 72-52, then smothering Ansonia, 54-40, on successive nights in DeGraff Dec. 11 and 12.
The successful weekend keeps the Pirates unbeaten and 3-0 on the season, and with the win against Temple Christian, 1-0 in Northwest Central Conference play.
With the score tied at 34-all at the half in the game against the Pioneers on Friday, the Pirates built a five-point lead in the third, then gave the visitors a broadside as a parting gift, turning the contest into a track meet and dropping a 22-7 run in LTC in fourth for the 20-point win.
Riverside blistered the nets against LTC, connecting on 56 percent of its shots from the floor (23-for-41) and a backbreaking 64 percent (7-for-11) from three-point land, which averages out to roughly six baskets for every ten shots taken by the Pirates.
Jesse Kean was responsible for a lot of the damage as he went 8-for-13 from the floor and closed with a game-high 17 points. Landon Kelsey closed with a double-double, netting 14 points and dishing out 10 dimes. Ross Stevens also dished out six assists and connected on all four of his three-point attempts, finishing with 14 points, his only missed shot coming from inside the arc. Trey Helmlinger went a perfect 4-for-4 from the floor, including a namesake bucket, and had 11 points, while Shane Crawford also reached double figures in scoring with 10 points.
Brock Bowman led the Pioneers with 15 points.
The following night saw was less of the same as Riverside head coach Dean Sanford slapped a zone on the athletic Ansonia Tigers, which the visitors were never able to quite solve. After being held to just 13 first-half points, the Tigers broke out for 17 points in the third, only to watch the Pirates match them basket-for-basket and outscore them by a point in the period.
The Tigers pulled to within six at one point, but were unable to throw up an effective press, with the Helmlinger-to-Crawford connection resulting in three easy baskets (including an ‘and-one’) and seven points for Crawford in the third quarter alone.
Riverside’s Twilight Zone closed it out in the fourth as it shut down everything inside 15 feet, forcing Ansonia to settle for low-percentage shots from the floor. The Pirates iced the game midway through the quarter as they took advantage of a shooting foul, which was followed by a technical foul for language on an Ansonia player. Riverside hit all four free throws, and Kelsey drained a trey from the corner one minute later to cap the win.
The Pirates lost their three-point touch against the Tigers, going only 1-for-11 from outside, but continued to shoot the eyes out of the basket from the floor, again hitting almost 60 percent of their attempts. They also kept a handle on the ball in both games, turning it over only eight times against the Tigers and nine times against the Pioneers.
Kelsey led all scorers in the Ansonia game with 13 points, Helmlinger and Crawford each had 11 points and Jesse Kean had 10 points. Helmlinger also passed out seven assists against the Tigers.
The Pirates are back in action Tuesday, Dec. 15, when they host the Indian Lake Lakers in their annual grudge match, which this year takes place in DeGraff. After that, Riverside will host two more games this coming weekend, hosting Lima Perry in an NWCC game Friday, Dec. 18, then entertaining Emmanuel Christian in a non-league game the following night.
Tom Stephens is a regular contributor to this newspaper.