Senior Brady Vaia and his Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball teammates could handle a tough loss on Jan. 7 perhaps a little easier than usual.

The Bulldogs’ 58-56 setback to area-rated Hyde Park finally was their first game since beating St. Francis on Dec. 17 for their sixth straight victory. 

Even the Hyde Park game was a late addition after their originally scheduled opponent, Von Steuben, canceled the night before.

“We found out we were playing [Hyde Park] at like 10 in the morning. We didn’t have much to prepare for them, just went out and played,” Vaia said. “We practiced the whole week preparing for [Von Steuben] and then we totally switched up. We just wanted to play. We didn’t really care who it was.”

RBHS (10-2) bounced back quickly the following afternoon with a 64-51 home victory over Nazareth Academy on Jan. 8 after nearly pulling out Friday’s back-and-forth battle. 

Going for the win against Hyde Park, the Bulldogs’ J.P. Hanley missed a last-second three-pointer from the corner under heavy defensive pressure.

With the game tied at 56, Hyde Park held the ball roughly the last 90 seconds before converting two free throws in a one-and-bonus situations with 14 seconds left. 

“They’re a top-10 team and this kind of game is only going to help us learn from the mistakes we made down the stretch,” RBHS coach Mike Reingruber said. “It was a good, heated regional championship-type atmosphere throughout. Hopefully we’ll be able to play in and be successful in those situations as the year goes on.” 

Will Gonzalez had a huge game with 20 points and 6-for-6 three-point shooting. Joe Gilhooley had 12 points while Hanley had nine and seven assists.

After playing St. Francis on Dec. 17, the Bulldogs had their Dec. 22 game with St. Edward moved to Jan. 19 and withdrew from all five days of York’s Jack Tosh Holiday Classic Dec. 27-31 because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the squad.

Fortunately for Reingruber, Hyde Park coach Jamere Dismukes knew he was seeking a last-second opponent for Jan. 7 and reached out.

Before regular practices resumed upon returning to school on Jan. 3, RBHS players were forced to train individually during winter break.

“Having two weeks off was kind of hard, so we had to do stuff on our own, do workouts online,” Vaia said. “It’s going to take some time but I feel like now we’re getting back to what we were like.”  

“We have kids that love to play and be in the gym and want to compete. I think when you have something taken away from you, then you appreciate it a little more,” Reingruber said. “From a conditioning standpoint, it took a couple of days to get the legs back under us. Quite honestly, I was surprised at practice how well we jelled back together.”

Against Nazareth, Vaia and Joevonn McCottry each had 17 points and Hanley scored 14 with 10 rebounds. RBHS built a 38-21 halftime lead but the Roadrunners cut that deficit to single digits.

“We were moving the ball better [than against Hyde Park],” Vaia said. “Shots were not falling a total lot [22 for 50], but we were still moving the ball and sharing it well [15 assists].”