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Aviation soars into ‘B’ semis with win

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So Robert Rivera wasn’t very...

By Dylan Butler

The name Aviation High School doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of opponents. After all, there is no rich history to draw upon and the Flyers are not an imposing team that plays a flashy brand of basketball.

So Robert Rivera wasn’t very surprised when he overheard some members of Urban Peace Academy speaking about his squad.

“They said we can’t dribble, we can’t shoot and we can’t pass,” the Flyers guard said. “In our first playoff game, we didn’t play well.”

The previously undefeated Warriors had good reason to be confident. They watched Aviation struggle to beat Hunter 60-52 last Thursday as they cruised to a 67-51 victory over Stuyvesant. Urban Peace won seven games during the regular season by 40 points or more.

But Sunday at Hunter College, it was all Aviation. The Flyers played hard-nosed, gritty basketball to advance to the PSAL ‘B’ semifinals at St. John’s University Sunday with a 71-49 win over No. 3 Urban Peace.

Aviation takes on No. 2 Benjamin Banneker, 77-56 winners over Alfred E. Smith, at Alumni Hall at 2 p.m.

“We’re not real fast, we’re not real athletic,” said Aviation guard Pete Caris. “People always underestimate us. We’ve had no respect all season.”

Caris and Rivera exemplified the Flyers’ blue-collar attitude as the backcourt tandem spent almost as much time on the court lunging for loose balls as they did standing upright.

“I’m also a volleyball coach and in volleyball, you hit the floor constantly,” said Aviation coach Steve Hagenlocher. “We practice diving. I hit the floor to show them how it’s done. If I can get this 44-year-old body on the floor then so can they.”

Aviation (22-3) broke open a close game in the final 1:30 of the third quarter when, leading by six, Caris broke ahead of the pack for a layup. But with Caris already off the ground, Urban Peace’s Matthew Martin grabbed him around the waist. The ball dropped through the hoop and Martin was whistled for an intentional foul. Caris made one of two free throws and the Flyers led 45-36 going into the fourth quarter.

“Once he called the intentional foul, I thought the game was over,” Hagenlocher said. “That’s definitely when I started to relax a bit.”

Caris opened the fourth quarter by draining two straight three-pointers, igniting a 19-2 run as the Flyers went up by 23, 61-38.

“Those two threes I made really gave us a boost,” said Caris, who finished with a game-high 28 points. “We got the momentum and after that it was all over.”

But Aviation’s victory was far from a one-man effort. Caris’ backcourt mate Rivera had 13 points while Jack Covington, the Flyers’ tallest player at 6-foot-2, and Glen Byrd netted 10 points apiece.

While the Flyers had a balanced scoring attack, Urban Peace (20-1) struggled to get into a flow offensively against Aviation’s “amoeba defense,” which Hagenlocher adapted from St. Francis College coach Ron Ganulin.

“An amoeba has no shape, it just moves in different directions,” Hagenlocher said. “It starts out as a 3-2 zone, then it’s a 2-3 and when it finishes out, it’s finally a 1-2-1. It’s totally different when it ends from when it starts.”

The best season in Aviation history continues with a semifinal game against Banneker. And if the Flyers win that game they could face division foe John Adams in an all-Queens final at Madison Square Garden on March 18.

“That would be the best situation,” Covington said. “It would be a storybook ending to the season.”

John Adams 55, Bronx Science 52. Donte King continued his post-season tear with 22 points and four assists as the 12th-seeded Spartans upset No. 5 Bronx Science Saturday at Lehman College. King had 35 points in a 66-59 win over No. 5 Comprehensive Studies last Wednesday at Elmcor. Adrian Smith added 12 points and 10 assists for John Adams (15-10) which takes on No. 8 Thurgood Marshall in the PSAL ‘B’ semifinals Sunday at 10 a.m.

Bronx Science 70, Townsend Harris 51. Jaquone Miller spoiled the Hawks’ first post-season appearance by scoring a game-high 37 points for Bronx Science in the 19-point win last Wednesday at Elmcor. Philip Marmon-Halm led No. 13 Townsend Harris (18-5) with 19 points.

Banneker 62, John Bowne 55. Anthony Gutierrez’s driving layup tied the game at 35 in the third quarter, but Kareem Lloyd and Jawanza Barron led Banneker in a 6-0 run in the Wildcats’ (15-10) second-round loss last Thursday at Lehman College.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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