STERLING – For three quarters, it was tough to tell at times Friday night which team had been together for a month and which team had only really been together for a week.
But in crunch time, the Sterling Golden Warriors put all their experience to good use.
Senior Zach Rehmert scored 20 of his game-high 24 points after halftime, and the Warriors pulled away down the stretch in a 62-54 victory over the Geneseo Maple Leafs at Musgrove Fieldhouse.
"Words can't describe how mad I was at myself after the first half," said Rehmert, who also had six rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocked shots. "I felt like I had let my guys down. They busted their butts on defense, and we were only ahead by four because I wasn't pulling my weight."
That changed quickly. Rehmert turned his own block into a layup, then scored off an inbounds play. After a Juan Gomez up-and-under bucket, Rehmert nailed a 3-pointer when he was left all alone on the right side of the court.
After a pair of baseline drives by Geneseo's Greg Rusk, sandwiched around KLevin Wolak's jumper, Rehmert was left alone again, this time on the left side of the court, and he nailed another 3 to tie the score at 34 with 1:28 left in the third.
"My teammates set some really nice screens, and I came off them and hit a couple of 3s," Rehmert said. "That let me get to the basket, then distribute a little bit, and my guys' hard work finally paid off."
Rusk's 3 to end the third tied it at 39, then Anthony Bravata's jumper to open the fourth gave the Maple Leafs (1-4, 0-1 NIB-12 West) a 41-39 lead.
But that would be their last, as Joe Brouilette scored on a pass from Sterling Thornton, Gomez hit a pull-up jumper when his defender fell down, and Draque Penaflor-Heier scored on the fast break off a pretty pass from Rehmert.
When the dust settled, Sterling (1-1, 1-0) had opened the fourth quarter with a 15-6 run to take control.
"This year, we have the experience of all these guys who played together last year, who played together all summer," Rehmert said. "Last year, we struggled in close games down the stretch. This year, I think we've finally learned how to put teams away."
Thornton, Penaflor-Heiuer and Brouilette each added eight points, with Thornton dishing three assists and Brouilette pulling down six rebounds. Isaiah Celestino provided a spark off the bench for the Warriors, dishing four assists to go with his three points and two steals.
Sterling also held 6-foot-7 center Drew Himmelman in check for much of the night, though he still finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. Rusk added 11 points and two steals, and Luke Snyder chipped in five points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals.
"You could really tell the difference between a team that's been practicing together for 4 weeks versus a team that's been together 4 days," said Geneseo coach Brad Storm, who finally got the Leafs' football players on the court this week after their run to the Class 4A state title game. "Our kids played hard enough to win, we just made some mistakes that we just can't have in a close game.
"Things didn't go our way, and we didn't make our own luck, and Sterling made plays – on both offense and defense – when they needed to."
Sterling 62, Geneseo 54
Star of the game: Zach Rehmert, Sterling, 24 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks
Key performers: Joe Brouilette, Sterling, 8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals; Sterling Thornton, Sterling, 8 points, 3 assists; Drew Himmelman, Geneseo, 18 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks; Greg Rusk, Geneseo, 11 points, 2 steals
Up next: Alleman at Sterling, 7 p.m. Tuesday