Phoenix Stays Spotless: TSA Boys Edge Rivendell

  • Sharon's Cole Ward keeps the ball in play during a game with Rivendell, on Feb. 8, 2018 in Sharon, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rivendell's Zachary Gould is pressured by Sharon's Joshua Amodeo during their game on Feb. 8, 2018, in Sharon,Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sharon's Sam Knoerlein looks for an outlet with Rivendell's Noah Martel on him during their game in Sharon, Vt., on Feb. 8, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, February 08, 2018

Sharon — Sam Knoerlein’s shot was off for the first three quarters of Thursday’s game against Rivendell Academy, but the senior captain came through emphatically during crunch time with the Sharon Academy’s undefeated season hanging in the balance.

Knoerlein scored nine of his 16 points — including the game-winning hoop — during the fourth quarter as the Phoenix defeated the Raptors, 43-41, and improved to 14-0.

“I was cold all night,” Knoerlein said. “Then I think the defensive intensity just leads to easier baskets.”

Sharon, which defeated Rivendell, 65-45, on Dec. 29, came back from a 12-point deficit on Thursday, creating a playoff atmosphere before a loud home crowd.

Rivendell (7-7), which saw its six-game winning streak halted, was dominant early on in the absence of its leading scorer, Owen Pelletier (18 ppg), who sat out with an elbow injury.

Sophomore Zach Gould more than picked up the slack, finishing with 16 points while manning the point guard position effectively during the upset bid.

Gould was neutralized during the fourth quarter, however, thanks to a defensive adjustment made by Phoenix coach Blake Fabrikant.

“I finally put Cole (Ward) on him to use quickness and I was afraid to do so because there was sort of a height disparity,” Fabrikant said. “But I thought he did a really nice job staying with him at the end and slowing him down .”

Despite a scoreless fourth quarter, Gould’s performance was terrific.

“I warned the guys about it before the game because sometimes when a guy goes down, other guys steps up, they get energized,” Fabrikant said. “And Gould was incredible tonight.”

Ward’s lock-down defensive effort proved to be a key compliment to Knoerlein’s late offensive output.

Rivendell’s lead ballooned to 34-22 with 2:20 remaining in the third quarter when Fabrikant called a timeout. The tide began to turn afterward as Fisher Kelley (11 points) scored on a put-back and Ward hit a 3-pointer.

Sharon continued to gain ground in the fourth quarter, taking its first lead of the game since midway through the second quarter on a late Knoerlein jumper to make it 40-39 with nearly 1:00 remaining.

Rivendell had the ball following a late timeout and worked the ball to Tanner Siemons, whose shot was blocked out of bounds by Kelley. Soon after, Knoerlein was whistled for an off-the-ball push of Isaac Martel, who calmly sank both of his free throws with 20 seconds to go.

Fabrikant called another timeout, after which Knoerlein drove to the hole and was fouled while scoring a layup. He hit the free throw to complete the 3-point play then Rivendell’s attempt at a buzzer-beater was off the mark.

It was a grind-it-out, gut-check type of victory for one of the last undefeated teams in the state.

“In one aspect, I’m proud of them,” Fabrikant said. “I know that we have fight in us and that we’re always going to finish a game hard, but in another aspect, I really wish that we could use some of that energy in the beginning of the game and not have to win this way because this is the third or fourth time we’ve done it this season.”

Although Pelletier watched Thursday’s contest with his arm in a sling on the bench, Fabrikant knew better than to count his chickens beforehand.

“I wasn’t surprised because I knew that they were going to rally around Owen being out,” he said. “And obviously for the majority of that game, they were playing harder than we were and they wanted it more than us. I feel in a way that we had no business winning that game.”

Pelletier, who’s slammed countless dunks on the season, was recently injured while playing above the rim.

He’s now waiting for the elbow swelling to subside, which will allow him to get further evaluation including a sense of whether or not his senior season is over.

Rivendell coach Jeff Huntington, though clearly frustrated by how Thursday’s chips fell, seemed positive about the overall picture.

“We can’t dwell on it,” Huntington said. “We’ve just got to keep going. They put some pressure on us. … We turned the ball over, and that kind of hurt us there toward the end. We’ve got to do a little better job with the pressure, but other than that, I thought we had a good effort tonight.”