BY GENE NARDI
On Thursday, Dec. 22, the Royal Palm Beach High School basketball team hosted rival Palm Beach Lakes High School in a rematch and fell to the Rams 67-60 in a thriller.
The Wildcats were unable to go unbeaten in the series against the visiting Rams. Royal Palm Beach topped Palm Beach Lakes 83-70 earlier in the season. Both teams came into the contest ranked in the top 10, with Palm Beach Lakes in the No. 7 spot and Royal Palm Beach rounding out the group at No. 10.
The game’s lead changed hands three times during the first period, indicating that it would be a battle. Palm Beach Lakes jumped out early, scoring a quick six. The Wildcats finally settled down and clawed back, closing the deficit to 8-5. They continued to channel the energy into playing aggressive defense, which forced several Palm Beach Lakes turnovers.
Royal Palm Beach took advantage and captured a 10-8 lead five minutes into the game. Wildcat point guard Jordan Samuels came up big by securing a turnover and quickly dumped five points into the net to lift Royal Palm Beach up 12-8. The rally forced the Rams to call a time-out.
That pause in the action proved beneficial for the Rams. Standout guard Ty Hands quickly propelled the Rams into reclaiming the lead with a pair of the three-pointers to go up 18-12.
Royal Palm Beach was able to keep pace with the Rams but seemed to be a step behind, and went into halftime down by nine, 31-22. Hands shook the rafters of the gymnasium when he shot a three-pointer at the buzzer from near midcourt. That score would give the Rams continued momentum going into the second half.
The Wildcats had to play catch-up, being down by as much as 12 during the second half. Palm Beach Lakes connected with accurate passing and increased its accuracy at the net. Going into the fourth period, the Wildcats were down 50-38. Royal Palm Beach created several opportunities but could not finish under the boards.
Royal Palm Beach rallied late in the fourth, putting together enough offense to close the gap to 64-60, with Samuels and Christian Crespo leading the charge. The Wildcats forced several Palm Beach Lakes turnovers and took advantage by turning them into points.
But the Rams were able to do enough to quell the Wildcat comeback by extending their lead, and eventually taking the contest, 67-60.
With the loss, Royal Palm Beach fell to 8-4 on the season and split the series with the Rams. For the Wildcats, Samuels put up a career high of 20 points, Crespo recorded 12 points and Jules Jasmin had 10 points.
ABOVE: Royal Palm Beach’s Jordan Samuels battles with a Rams player for possession.