By PAUL GOTHAM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Credit Troy Prince for trusting his instincts.
With his team’s double-digit first-quarter lead quickly evaporating, the 13th-year Hilton coach turned to his bench. It didn’t matter that Joey Lipani had picked up two fouls within the contest’s first three minutes, Prince sent his player back into the game.
“He’s a coach’s son, so he’s pretty smart,” Prince said referring Lipani’s father, Rich, the long-time Hilton head football coach. “He promised he wouldn’t pick up another one.”
The younger Lipani was good to his word and then some steadying the Hilton attack through the end of the half. He finished the game with 15 points including a pair of crucial three-pointers in the fourth quarter, and the Hilton Cadets took their home opener with a 79-55 victory over the reigning Class A2 champion Batavia Blue Devils.
“We’re not going to do a whole lot of gambling defensively, so I wasn’t overly concerned,” Prince said of the decision to Lipani back into the game with more than five minutes remaining in the second quarter. “We need him on the floor for his offensive capabilities.”
Lipani sparked the decisive run to start the fourth as the Cadets turned a five-point game into a blowout.
“I was pretty upset for letting my team down like that,” Lipani said. “I just wanted to make an impact when I got back in.”
With the Cadets leading 51-46 to start the fourth, Lipani knocked down a three to start the stanza. Christian Ranke scored on an inbound play. Morgan Kunigan converted a putback, and a turnover on the ensuing inbound forced a timeout from the Batavia bench.
But there was no stopping Hilton.
Coming out of the timeout, Tah-jae Hill nailed a pull-up jumper from the free throw line, and the Cadets didn’t look back.
“Our guys got back into screening and sprinting and just causing them to move them a little bit more, Prince noted. “We were able to get into some gaps and made the right read whether it was a pitch or attacking all the way for ourselves. It was good to see.”
Senior Johnathan Letta paced the Cadets with 22 points and 12 assists. Letta hit two of his six three-pointers during the first quarter staking Hilton to a 17-7 advantage.
Batavia went to a 1-2-2 half-court zone in the second quarter, and the change in defense stymied the Cadets.
“They got us passing and standing,” Prince remarked. “Year in and year out they’re the best defensive team in Section Five. They help so well. They’re so well-coached. We helped that by standing.”
Antwan Odom and Tee Sean Ayala hit back-to-back three pointers for the Blue Devils. Ayala made it a one-possession game at 23-20 with his second trey of the quarter. Odom knotted the contest at 26 with a running one-hander off the window, and the sophomore forward followed with another three ball to give Batavia its only lead of the night at 29-26.
“We’re a young team and I thought we came out jittery,” Batavia head coach Buddy Brasky commented. “We missed a lot opportunities early on offense. We missed four layups. We hit a couple shots early in that second quarter that kinda got us going. I was pleased with that, but that’s about the only thing I was pleased with.
“I can’t remember the last time our team gave up 79 points. Our goal is 52 points or under. We have held teams to that quite often in the past.”
Hill scored eight of his 15 points for Hilton in the fourth quarter. Twice during the game, Prince called his number coming out of timeouts, and the freshman delivered on both occasions.
“He’s certainly talented,” Prince said of Hill. “It’s the first time I can recall in a long time where we come out of dead ball situations and execute our sets to perfection. It’s great to see.”
Hilton connected on 10 times from behind the arc.
Kunigan finished with 12 points on the night. Ranke grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds.
Odom paced Batavia with 17 points, 12 rebounds (including six on the offensive end) and three assists. Ayala finished with 16 points. Jzon Richardson added 12 points and seven rebounds for the Blue Devils (0-1).
Hilton (1-0) plays at Fairport Friday night. A 7:30 pm tipoff is scheduled.
Batavia travels to Eastridge for a 7:15 pm start.