By MICHAEL KELLY
Recorder Sports Staff
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM -- After committing two early fouls, Amsterdam senior John Hardies had to watch the final 14 minutes of his Senior Night's first half from the bench.
It was not a pretty sight from his seat, as the Running Rams looked lifeless and suffered through a 12-turnover first half on their way to an eight-point deficit at intermission.
"That was frustrating, very frustrating," said Hardies. "I felt helpless."
In Friday night's second half against Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, though, it was Hardies and his fellow seniors making the Golden Knights miserable, as the Rams stormed back for a 65-54 Big 10 win.
Amsterdam needed some strong play in the fourth quarter to hold off ND-BG, but it was the home club's third quarter, led by Hardies, that turned the game in the Rams' favor.
"[Hardies] played with everything he had," Rams head coach Tony Orapello said.
Down eight points to start the third quarter, the Rams scored 11 of the stanza's first 13 points on their way to a 21-4 run. In the middle of all of it was Hardies, who scored four points, grabbed four rebounds and dished three assists in the quarter.
"I went into halftime and I realized the first half was over and that the two fouls shouldn't really affect me anymore -- even though I ended up fouling out," said Hardies, who was disqualified with less than a minute to play.
"When I went back in there after halftime, I just wanted to make the best of it and spark the team," he said.
"John's a huge piece for us," said senior forward Zach Dufel. "He handles the ball well and passes it well, so it was big to have him back out there with us."
The victory was Amsterdam's (3-10, 3-9) first home win of the season, and first at Amsterdam High School since the 2010-11 season.
"We were excited," said Luis Laboy of the atmosphere in the post-game locker room. "First home win in like two years."
The feel to the post-game locker room was a much different one than the halftime version. On their final seven possessions of the first half, Amsterdam missed two shots and had five turnovers, as ND-BG (1-12, 1-11) built up its lead. Orapello did not call a timeout during the treacherous stretch, which culminated with a 3-pointer from ND-BG's Dwayne Freeman, who finished with a game-high 22 points.
Orapello said his halftime talk to his club was full of tough love, delivered at a brisk pace -- the Rams were back on the court warming up for the second half after just more than three minutes in the locker room.
"I told them: If you come out flat, I'm going to call a timeout in the first minute -- in the first second -- and go off on all of you, right there," Orapello said.
Orapello's Rams responded. Hardies sparked the club and Laboy scored nine of his team-high 19 points in the quarter; the highlight of the stanza was a long alley-oop pass from Hardies to Laboy for a score, which caused ND-BG to call timeout.
"We came out flat," said ND-BG head coach Jay Mahoney. "We moved the ball well in the first half; then, in the second half, we'd throw it away and they'd come down to get an easy layup."
The Rams took a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter, and got a pair of big plays to stave off some early momentum for the Knights. With Amsterdam's lead cut to three points, Laboy hit a runner and Dufel sank a 3-pointer from the left wing to push Amsterdam's lead back out to eight with about five minutes to go.
"It was nice to finally get back out there and play -- and hit a big shot," said Dufel, who had missed the team's past four games with a left ankle injury. "But this was a team win, a great team win."
After Dufel's shot, the Rams were never seriously challenged again, as the team's lead hovered between seven and 13 points the rest of the way.
Dufel scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the contest, while senior teammate Robbie Sherlock added 15 points and eight rebounds and senior guard Billy Carr added six points.
Adding to his team-high points tally, Laboy secured seven steals and three blocks. The senior said that the second half showed what the Rams are capable of when they stick together.
"It all starts with playing together," he said. "When you play together, hustle and focus, you can win games."
Friday's win showed that, as the Rams broke their six-game losing streak. But, perhaps more importantly, the evening served as a bright spot in what has been a difficult season for the squad's seven seniors, which also includes AJ Centi and Rayshawn Rollins.
"Senior Night win, that's big for us," said Hardies. "You go through all that work, you've been in the program for a long time and guys like me, Robbie and AJ, we've all been playing together since fourth grade on the travel teams. [Tonight's win], it's a culmination of all that hard work. To be able to share that and really work hard for a victory, it was great."