By MICHAEL KELLY
Recorder Sports Staff
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- Unblinking, Amsterdam Running Rams head coach Tony Orapello's eyes stared straight ahead when he was asked to assess his team's effort Tuesday night.
"It's a peculiar team. They play hard when they're down," said Orapello, rubbing his eyes. "But they don't want to play hard to get in the lead."
It was hard to argue with Orapello's take after Tuesday's 78-68 loss to Catholic Central, a Big 10 affair in which Amsterdam fell behind early before clawing back to make a game of it behind a career-best night from freshman Bryan Stanavich.
Down 12 points midway through the second quarter, Luis Laboy and Stanavich helped engineer a run to close the half and bring the Rams (2-9, 2-8) within seven of the Crusaders (6-6, 5-5) at the half. But it was after intermission when Stanavich took over for the home team.
"Our freshman sparked us," said Orapello. "He got us going."
Getting the nod to start the third quarter, the freshman scored 12 of his team-high 19 points in the stanza to keep the Rams in the game, despite an early run from the Crusaders that ballooned their lead to 16 points.
"I knew Coach believed in me, putting me back on the court (to start)," said Stanavich. "I got some steals, got out on the break and my teammates were getting me open shots to knock down."
"We came out harder in the third quarter," said Amsterdam forward Marcus Pritchard. "We played more as a team. We moved the ball better and we didn't take selfish shots."
The runs Stanavich led AHS on in the third quarter caused several Catholic Central timeouts, as Crusaders head coach Chuck Mack spent much of the quarter bemoaning his team's inability to put away the Rams.
"We just weren't getting to our spots and we weren't playing smart," said Mack. "The effort is always there, but we weren't playing smart."
But despite Stanavich's third-quarter effort -- besides his 12 points, he had three assists and three steals in the quarter -- the Rams were still down six points heading into the fourth and never got any closer in the final eight minutes.
"When you're down a lot, you need to expend a lot of energy to get back in the game -- and we did," said Orapello. "We got tired."
Anthony Mack scored a game-high 23 points for the Crusaders, which also received 22 points and seven steals from Jiriem Tedder.
For the Rams, Laboy scored 18 points, while Robbie Sherlock added 15 points and a season-high 14 rebounds.
"Robbie really rebounded the ball well," Orapello said.
But the Rams' errors were too much for the team to overcome, especially the club's season-worst total of 29 turnovers. Still, Orapello said he thought his team had again shown growth in the loss, leading him to make a bold prediction -- sort of -- ahead of his team's Friday trip to Christian Brothers Academy.
"I think we can do the same thing we did tonight with CBA," he started. "We'll get down, battle back and stay with them. If we can stay with them long enough, we can probably pull it off. We're not going to blow them out of the gym, but we're going to try to stay with them."