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Stanners fall short against Stepinac

The only thing Ernest Rouse left the gym with Friday night was frustration. His Archbishop Molloy boys’ basketball team hung around after halftime, never letting Archbishop Stepinac take a lead greater than eight points.

It just seemed like a matter of time before the Stanners would make a run against their Class A opponents.

“We never made it,” Rouse said.

The senior guard got Molloy within one with 5:42 left, but the Stanners just couldn’t get over the hump in a 56-49 loss to Stepinac in a non-league game at Jack Curran Gymnasium.

It seemed like every time Molloy (1-1) scored, Stepinac (3-0) had an answer in the fourth quarter. After Rouse made it 41-40, Thomas Decker drained a 3 to extend the Crusaders’ lead. Molloy senior Steven Foertsch followed with a basket, but Stepinac star forward Conroy Baltimore responded. And when Chris Dorgler made a runner, Richard Whitten started a 6-0 run to make it 52-44 with 1:48 left.

“We just couldn’t get stops,” Rouse said.

Molloy was at a serious disadvantage down low. It was hard enough dealing with the athletic, 6-foot-3 Baltimore, who has interest from Fairfield, Manhattan and Hofstra. But Dorgler, a scrappy, 6-foot-3 forward, was mired in foul trouble throughout the game.

“He was making a living down there in the paint,” Foertsch said of Baltimore, who finished with 22 points. “We didn’t get any offensive rebounds.”

Things weren’t much better offensively. Junior Chris Garcia, a solid shooter, was out with an ankle injury and, to make matters worse, Molloy struggled with its offensive sets, especially early on. The Stanners had a hard time getting in position to shoot.

“We took poor shots,” Molloy Coach Jack Curran said. “Our shot selection was terrible.”

Some of that, Curran said, was the reliance on Rouse. The skilled, 6-foot-1 guard is Molloy’s primary offensive weapon after Louisville-bound star Russ Smith — and most of last year’s team — graduated. Rouse finished with 18 points, eight of which came in the fourth quarter. Senior guard Keith Kilpatrick had 11 points and Foertsch added 10 for the Stanners.

“They look to him to do too much,” Curran said of Rouse. “He can’t do everything. He was trying too hard. He doesn’t trust his teammates.”

The legendary coach told his team in the locker room that it’s still early in the season. But the Molloy players really wanted this one against a team in a lower division with the CHSAA Class AA league season about a month away.

“The games are gonna get a lot tougher,” Foertsch said.

It certainly won’t be easy. Molloy is undersized and inexperienced — a scary proposition in one of the toughest leagues in the country. Curran said he’s not sure if the Stanners are playing the right offense or the right defense yet. No matter what, the 52nd-year Hall of Fame coach said this was going to be one of his biggest challenges ever.

“Yeah,” Curran said. “There’s no question about that.”

Reach Marc Raimondi at mraimondi@nypost.com.

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