St. Francis' rally falls short vs. R-B
Brady Vaia attempted three shots in the first 29-plus minutes of Friday's game.
But the Riverside-Brookfield senior point guard learned the art of big-game shooting at a young age, watching his older brother, Zach, hit key shots to lead the Bulldogs to numerous victories.
In a key early-season Metro Suburban Conference Blue Division game, it was Brady's turn against St. Francis to add another page to his family's sports legacy.
Vaia scored all five of his points in the final two-plus minutes to spark the Bulldogs to a 61-53 victory over the Spartans in Riverside.
The Bulldogs (9-1, 3-0) stayed atop the conference standings by holding the Spartans (5-2, 1-1) scoreless for the final 2:35 of the game. Vaia canned a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs a 53-30 lead with 2:51 remaining. St. Francis guard Brendan Yarusso, who scored a game-high 19 points, followed with a 3-pointer to tie the game, but the Bulldogs made eight free throws, including two by Vaia with 26.2 left, to pull out the dramatic win.
"My teammates trust me and always tell me to keep shooting the ball," Vaia said. "When the ball comes to me, I have the confidence to shoot the shot because I know they trust me. Growing up watching my brother taking over the game, I learned from him. That's where I get my confidence from."
The Bulldogs and Spartans both showed off their depth, with each team getting numerous contributions at different points of the game. Joevonn McCottry carried the scoring load for R-B in the first half, scoring 14 of his 16 points. Joe Gilhooley added 16 points.
"It was a good team win," McCottry said. "Everything felt good in the first half for me. But we have a balanced team. We've been playing together a long time. We know our strengths and weaknesses and play well together."
The Bulldogs nearly ran away with a blowout victory, leading by double digits for over 12 minutes before the Spartans mounted a comeback. Riverside-Brookfield coach Mike Reingruber said his team stayed focused amid the Spartans' furious comeback in the fourth quarter.
"We knew it was going to be tough," Reingruber said. "We knew they're a very good basketball team. That was a good game for us. We responded well down the stretch. Brady isn't a huge scorer for us, but he's a competitor and been in a lot of games in his life. We're confident and comfortable with him taking that shot late in the game. Joevonn played with a lot of energy and bounce and made a lot of plays, especially in the first half."
St. Francis relied on numerous players to slowly chop the deficit, with T.J. McMillen, a standout football player, providing key inside toughness with 8 points. Point guard Jack Brennan energized the Spartans with his tenacity on defense, picking up three charges -- all in the halfcourt. Brennan hit two 3-pointers for 10 points, but Yarusso's shooting and penetration nearly lifted the Spartans to a stunning comeback win.
He had 2 points in the first half but lit up the scoreboard in the second half. Yarusso scored 4 points in the third, then buried three 3-pointers to end with 13 fourth-quarter points.
"The second half we were down a lot, so we just wanted to come back and make it a game," Yarusso said. "I thought our effort and intensity really picked up in the second half. I'm really proud of how we played in the second half and came back against this team.
"I got hot and my teammates told me to keep playing my game. It felt good to lead the comeback, just frustrated we couldn't get it done."