Riverdale Rockets capture Hooperstown championship
In front of a packed crowd at the Hooperstown gymnasium in Mount Vernon on March 3, the Riverdale Rockets won the ninth grade travel basketball championship.
The Rockets beat the Rockland Chargers 43-41. The Rockets were out for revenge. Earlier in the season, Rockland beat Riverdale by 2 points, the team’s only defeat in their 11-1 season.
While the other seven teams in the league recruit players from several towns or even across an entire county and have more than a dozen players, the Rockets are seven boys from Riverdale who grew up playing ball in the schoolyard at PS 24.
In the championship game, Michael Dunnion was the high scorer for the Rockets, continually making big shots and a number of 3-pointers to keep his team in the game. Still, the Rockets trailed the entire time, down by as many as 9 points at one time. But two big baskets in a row from Robby Thaler and a number of key defensive plays and rebounds by Jack Buckley changed the momentum of the game.
Chris Campuzano got hot, both shooting and rebounding, and Michael McLaughlin and Phillip Kadaev stayed strong under the boards with more than 10 rebounds each, limiting the Chargers second chances on offense.
The Rockets never led until there was 1:30 left in the game. Down by 2 points, Jake Segal grabbed a key offensive rebound and passed to a cutting Campuzano, who made a twisting lay-up and was fouled. Campuzano made a free throw to put the Rockets up by 1. On their next possession, McLaughlin was fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws to put the Rockets up 41-39 with one minute left.
The Chargers came back to tie the score with an outside jump shot. With 43 seconds left in the game, the Rockets called time out and designed a championship-winning play. Segal, Thaler and Dunnion worked the ball until there was 10 seconds left on the clock. With the entire gym screaming at the top of their lungs, Segal penetrated into the heart of the Rockland defense and passed the ball back out to McLaughlin, who immediately spotted Dunnion with a step on his man close to the basket. Dunnion caught the ball and spun towards the basket, deftly laying the ball in off the backboard with three seconds left in the game. As the ball fell through the net, the pandemonium that erupted could be heard all the way back to Riverdale.
The players on the championship Rockets team are Jack Buckley, Chris Campuzano, Michael Dunnion, Phillip Kadaev, Michael McLaughlin, Jake Segal and Robby Thaler. The Rockets are coached by Scott Segal and Paul Thaler.