By Kevin McCaskill Jr.
On Tuesday, I was on the west side of the Connecticut River, in the town of Southwick. The Rams of Southwick Regional HS were hosting the Raiders of Hampshire Regional HS. When I pulled up to SRHS, I didn’t see a yellow school bus or any color school bus. I was thinking that the game had been cancelled even though there were many cars in the parking lot. Hampshire Reg. HC Lee Mollison told me after the game why there was no bus in the parking lot (see coach’s comments at the end of article).
The game was closely contested in the 1st quarter. The first few minutes saw Hampshire Reg get out to a small 4-0 lead. They made two fast-break layups to open the game. Southwick had to work for every basket they got all night. They usually took a shot in the waning seconds of the shot clock. It looked like Southwick wasn’t ready to shoot the ball even though Hampshire Reg was playing good defense. Some of the Rams looked hesitant in the first few minutes but they all came to life for the rest of the 1st. The clawed back in the game. The score was 14-14 at the end of the 1st.
In the 2nd quarter, Hampshire Reg started to separate from Southwick. Justin Forest finally scratched in the scorebook. Hampshire Reg was strong in the paint all night. Jamil Rodriguez and Will Rukokoski dominated the paint for Hampshire Reg. They were on the offensive glass all night and converted most of their shots at the rim. Southwick didn’t have anyone who could contain those two players in the post.
Southwick was still in the game in the 2nd quarter. Hampshire Reg perimeter offense hadn’t kicked in yet so Southwick got some rebounds and got out in transition. Also, the Rams offense started to flow better and get some easy shots in the paint. Leighton Billings was the standout for Southwick. He was the only player on Southwick that came ready to play from the initial inbounds [no jump ball in 2021].
The Rams were only down 5, 35-30, at halftime.
The second half of the 3rd quarter is where the game got away from Southwick. They were still relatively close with 6 minutes left in the quarter. The score was 37-30. Hampshire Reg had slightly extended their lead but both teams were cold to start the quarter.
That’s when the game turned. There wasn’t one play or a technical foul called or anything like that. Outside of Billings, Southwick couldn’t get easy shots all night. Their misses led to transition points for Hampshire Reg. This is when, Rukokoski and Rodriguez really put their stamp on the game. Rodriguez was ripping rebounds away from Southwick big men. Rukokoski made some nice moves in the post to get some easy baskets.
Justin Forest also came on for Hampshire Reg in the 2nd half. Coming into the game, he needed 24 points to reach 1,000 career points. He wasn’t forcing shots though. He didn’t score in the 1st quarter. He passed up shots all game so his teammates could get involved. Barring something crazy, he should cross the 1K milestone on Thursday against Northampton.
The 3rd ended with Hampshire Reg up 47-33.
The 4th quarter didn’t get any better for Southwick. They couldn’t put the ball in the basket. Forest was getting closer to the 1K mark. Rodriguez and Rukokoski made the Rams paint, their canvas on Tuesday.
HR HC Mollison took Forest out the before he scored 1,000. I imagine crossing that milestone will be more satisfying at home. When I spoke to HC Mollison after their loss to Holyoke earlier in the season, he didn’t know if Forest would be able to reach that individual goal. In 24 hours, those worries will vanish forever.
The game ended 61-37, Hampshire Regional. Southwick only scored 7 points in the second half.
Scorers for Hampshire Reg:
Justin Forest - 22 points
Dylan Rohan - 16 points
Jamil Rodriguez - 10 points
Will Rukokoski - 9 points
Kyle Dale - 3 points
Jadyn Kopie - 1 points
Scorers for Southwick Reg:
Leighton Billings - 18 points
Nick Michael - 6 points
Jordan Drzyzga - 5 points
Dylan Kelleher & Grayson Poole - 3 points each
Nate Goodwin - 2 points
After the game I spoke with, Southwick Reg HC Peter Fiorentino and Hampshire Reg HC Lee Mollison.
🟢Southwick HC Peter Fiorentino🟡
How did you feel coming into this game today?
“We felt pretty good; we played them yesterday. We played them tough; we had a great second half. I think we carried it over really well in the first half. 5 point deficit at half and the wheels kinda came off in the second half. We started missing open shots and that was that. You can’t win when you score 7 in a half. We battled, we played hard, we fought hard. Just didn’t have it tonight”.
Hampshire Reg dominated the glass tonight. Was that poor positioning by your players or Hampshire’s athleticism?
“I think it was a combination of the two. When you are playing zone, its a little harder to rebound as it is. They have two or three kids that can really jump. They were athletic and beating us to the rebounds. I thought our kids battled on the glass but its hard to compete with that athleticism.”
What have you gotten from Leighton Billings this season?
“Everyday he comes ready to go. He’s been a horse for us - plays a lot of minutes. Does a lot of good things - shoots it well, plays defense well. He is our post presence too. You can pencil him in for 12-15 [points] a night. He plays hard so he has been great for us”.
🔴Hampshire Reg HC Lee Mollison⚪️
I just heard you played Southwick yesterday. How did you feel coming into the game today?
“Yeah, it was one of those deals where we were trying to get an extra game in to get everyone playing a little more. The season is coming to a quick end here on April 22nd. A lot of our guys drove an hour here yesterday and then we drove an hour here again tonight. I was a little worried about that coming in. I feel like we are starting to play our best basketball. I was confident it was gonna be a tough matchup at first and then if we were able to play our game, pull away at the end”
I was a little concerned the game was cancelled when I didn’t see a school bus. You guys don’t travel together?
“No. One of the things we negotiated with our School Committee was that we were gonna travel separately and stay off the bus. It saves money. We are a unique school, being a regional school. We have kids from seven different towns that represent this team so they are from all over the place. We got kids that live 40 minutes from each other. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to travel on a bus, logistically. I probably won’t get home until 10 o’clock tonight. Its the most sound thing; its a little weird, it’s more like a men’s league type of thing, where you show up and play together. But these guys have a really good repoire. I think it’s what’s best for our team”.
Do you know the 7 towns off hand?
“For our guys, we represent Goshen, Williamsburg, Southampton, Westhampton, Holyoke, Chicopee...” [Worthington is the 7th. Worthington was a part of Gateway Regional].
Was attacking the offensive glass hard a part of the gameplan?
“Yes, definitely. Our Freshman Jamil Rodriguez is a special player. He really helps us on the glass. Our Junior Will Rukokoski did a fantastic job tonight. He’s just a kid who has worked hard over the last few years. He was our manager for a year. Then we worked his way to JV. This is his 1st year on Varsity. He’s really finding his stride right now and confidence. We have been working on pivoting so he is more comfortable around the basket now. He’s really blossoming which is great ‘cause he is a big, physical guy. You put him and Jamil down there, we are pretty physical. It was a good battle inside”.
Chris Berry (Masslive/Advance Local): What was the difference maker in the second half? You were up five at half but Southwick only scored 7 points in the second half.
“We talked about recommitting to the defensive end. The difference maker[s] were a little bit of ball pressure...and then the rebounding...”
Fall 2 🍁