By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
Friday night marked one of those odd moments for the Geneva and South boys basketball programs — the one where a former assistant first goes up against his old team as the head of another program.
In this case, in playing against South, the Eagles’ Matt Vespa faced not only the program and coach for whom he had functioned in the varsity assistant role, but he still teaches at that school and sees Rebels coach Roy Infalvi Jr. and his players every weekday.
In this case, it was not a good outcome for the new coach, who is still looking for his first win. South showed plenty of versatility in defeating its host, 80-49.
“I’ve known all those kids since they were freshmen,” Vespa said. “I still teach there, so I see them every day in the hall. It was interesting. It’s not something I necessarily like doing – obviously, everybody wants to win that game. They’re a good group of guys. So coach Infalvi and I just kind of believe that if we’re not playing each other, we’re hoping that they win.”
“We teach together still at South,” Infalvi said. “We talk every day, and we talk about some different things with both our programs. And Matt’s a great coach, and he’s going to do very good things here at Geneva. You can tell how hard his kids play right now, and that’s an indication of their coach.”
Indeed, the Eagles played hard. And for a while they kept it close, but they couldn’t sustain it. After the Rebels came out of the gate with a 23-8 lead, the Eagles (0-4, 0-3 in the Premier Athletic Conference) answered with an 11-2 run which they pushed to 16-5. That made it 30-27 when Jeramiah Allen tipped in his own miss with less than five minutes left until halftime.
However, after the sides traded buckets, South closed the half with the final 12 points for a 44-29 lead. It turned that into a 17-0 streak after intermission, and kept on pushing. Eleven more consecutive points expanded the margin to 66-35 late in the third period.
“I thought we kind of showed what we’re capable of doing (in the first half),” Vespa said. “Hopefully, the kids kind of realize that – how fun it can be. But it’s hard to maintain that. It takes hard work, and that’s something we’re going to have to put in.”
“I thought in the first half, they
made some big shots, and they pushed the ball a little bit on us,” Infalvi said. “I was a little disappointed in our rebounding. I thought we gave up too many second and third-chance shots in that second quarter.”
To help illustrate Infalvi’s point, at the break South (3-1, 2-1) held a slim 21-19 edge on the boards, but expanded it to 45-30 by game’s end.
Nick Schuenaman led the Rebels with 16 points including four 3-pointers. Zach Lapuh put in nine of his 11 points in the first quarter and added seven rebounds for South. Braun Hartfield added nine points and five assists, and Doug Burks nine points and eight boards, while Brandon Teske blocked three shots.
“We do have some players with versatility, which is nice because we’ve got to have some flexibility in what we want to do defensively,” Infalvi said.
“They’re a very nice team and very well-coached,” Vespa said. “They didn’t do anything that I didn’t know; they just do it well.”
Zac Sweat put in 15 of his game-high 17 points in the first half for the Eagles, including all three of his treys. Teammate Steve Jewell tallied all eight of his points in the first half. Ryan Mackynen and Paul Hitchcock each blocked a pair of shots for Geneva.
South also handled the ball well despite playing at a fast pace. It turned it over just eight times in the first three frames. It also hit 18 of its 24 free throws, while the Eagles took only two foul shots, missing both.
“I thought the last few games, we’ve been doing better taking care of the basketball and limiting our turnovers,” Infalvi said. “That’s always a key to the game for us, and I thought we did do that pretty well, especially when the game was up in the air.”
The start of the junior-varsity game was delayed because an accident on Interstate 90 delayed the arrival of South’s bus.
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.