Skelly’s Miraculous Shot Saves the Season for the Bobcats

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This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end for the highly regarded Byram Hills basketball team — 10 miles away from the Westchester County Center on the very first day of the sectional tournament, against a 17th-seeded opponent that had finished the regular season  four games under .500, in front of several hundred suddenly disbelieving and stunned Bobcat fans.

An emotional Brian Skelly hugs teammate Justin Pollack after the Bobcats' miraculous playoff victory Friday. Photo by Andy Jacobs
An emotional Brian Skelly hugs teammate Justin Pollack
after the Bobcats’ miraculous playoff victory Friday. Photo by Andy Jacobs

There was approximately half a second remaining on the clock Friday evening, .53 to be precise, and the upstart Beacon Bulldogs, who had come into the hostile Bobcat gym and made themselves right at home, were a mere moment away from turning the Class A tourney upside down. They held a three-point advantage as the beyond-desperate Bobcats waited to inbound the ball, facing a challenge so daunting Harry Houdini himself wouldn’t have wanted any part of it.

“We were all kind of in shock,” Bobcat guard Brian Skelly would admit later. “None of us expected to be in that position.”

A pair of timeouts were used up as the Bobcats didn’t see anything appetizing enough on their initial two attempts to get the ball to one of their reliable 3-point shooters. What happened on the third try figures to become a part of Byram Hills basketball lore for decades to come.

That’s because the sweet-shooting Skelly wound up receiving the inbound pass in the right corner and, in an instant, sent up a high-arching 3-point shot that must’ve been guided by destiny as it approached the rim. The ball splashed through the net, sending the game into overtime and a gym full  of Bobcat fans into delirium.

Skelly would deliver another game-tying 3-pointer in the final minute of the extra session and then Jeff Lynch’s dramatic steal in the final seconds set up Mike Giacomo’s game-winning layup at the buzzer. The top-seeded Bobcats emerged with an astounding 65-63 victory over Beacon, somehow finding a way to advance to the quarterfinal round of the playoffs against Somers.

“It’s one of the best high school games I’ve been a part of and I’ve been part of some really, really great ones,” said Bobcats coach Ted Repa in the aftermath of his 17-1 team’s miraculous escape. “The worst part about it, though, is that was just the first round.”

As he scouted Beacon during its easy win at Saunders two days earlier in an outbracket game, it didn’t take long for Repa to realize the Bulldogs were going to be a much more formidable opponent than their losing record indicated.

“I mean that is absolutely not a 17 seed,” he said. “If I had to bet, they’re one of the top eight teams in Class A. Their league obviously was very good with Poughkeepsie and Arlington.”

Repa’s players probably came to the same conclusion shortly after the opening tip. With freshman Elijah Hughes connecting on four 3-pointers and scoring 14 points, Beacon built a 23-16 lead after one quarter. But Ryan Golden erupted for 11 of his game-high 28 points in the second quarter and the Bobcats managed to walk off at halftime with a 34-33 edge.

The teams were tied at 43 apiece after three quarters and it was obvious that the Bobcats’ quest for their second gold ball in three years was in serious jeopardy. Fortunately for Byram Hills, the Bulldogs finished the evening just 9 of 21 from the free-throw line, missing several of them in the waning seconds of regulation that could’ve sealed the outcome.

But even with the help of the missed foul shots by Beacon, the Bobcats appeared to be on their way to a  humiliating opening-round exit when, needing three points to get even on their final possession of the fourth quarter, they helplessly watched the ball deflect out of bounds at the buzzer. Skelly pulled his jersey up over his head and began a disconsolate walk off the court.

Little did he know then that some extra time would be put back on the clock, just enough for him to resurrect the Bobcats’ title hopes with a desperation 3-point shot that will long be remembered by everyone who witnessed it.

After the two aborted attempts to inbound the ball, the Bobcats came out on the floor again with their home crowd preparing for the inevitable heartbreak to follow. But Skelly dashed across the court along the baseline, got a screen from Andrew Groll that freed him for an instant, and then received a perfectly timed pass from Mike Carpenito.

In the blink of an eye, Skelly’s shot was airborne over the outstretched hand of Beacon’s Tony Romanelli and on its way into Bobcat history. When it dropped through the net, tying the contest at 58-58, the Bobcats had new life and a couple hundred Byram fans standing in the student section right behind Skelly erupted in euphoria.

“I just turned and launched it and prayed and it went in,” said Skelly, who was almost in tears as he was met by his jubilant teammates. “It’s the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life. I was actually crying from happiness. I didn’t want it to end. I’m a senior and I just couldn’t bear to have it end.”

But it almost did end anyway, in spite of all the momentum that Skelly’s heroics in the last half second provided. In overtime, the Bobcats turned the ball over on four occasions and resilient Beacon was able to gain control again. It took another 3-pointer from Skelly for Byram Hills to tie the game in the last half minute.

Beacon was in possession of the ball as the final seconds ticked away, but the Bobcats’ Lynch wasn’t about to let the Bulldogs get the last shot. He knocked the ball away from Tyree Burns and began to dribble toward the other end of the court. Already with 11 assists in the game, Lynch then found Giacomo streaking along the left side of the floor. Giacomo gathered the pass, pump-faked once, then hit a layup at the buzzer to win the game and send dozens of students pouring onto the court to join the Bobcat celebration.

“Coach always calls me a renegade,” said Lynch, describing why he didn’t hesitate to go for a steal near the end of overtime. “I just, like, go at it. So I went at it, got the steal, luckily, found Mike Giacomo, and he hit the game-winning shot. This is that Byram magic. We always have some sort of magical event happen and our fans are always there with us.”

So now those fans will have an opportunity to see a little more Bobcat magic, beginning this evening (Tuesday) in the quarterfinals against eighth-seeded Somers and its high-scoring guard, John Decker.

“We’ve gotta do a much better job,” said Repa. “But I’m just happy we’re playing. We survived for another day and we’ve gotta take nothing for granted at this point moving forward.”

Whatever happens tonight against the Tuskers and perhaps eight days from now at the County Center, the Bobcats won’t soon forget the scare they got from unheralded Beacon.

“Let’s face it, they played amazing tonight,” said Repa about the Bulldogs. “They must’ve hit 10 3s, right? Contested 3s. None of them were breakdowns. They were contested 3s. So tip your hat to them and just thank goodness we had enough plays to have another practice tomorrow.”

“I don’t know, it was just amazing,” added Skelly. “It’s awesome. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever been part of.”

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