It was a whirlwind of a season for the John Bowne High School boys’ hoops team, one that had its ups and downs. The Wildcats made the move from the “A” league to the more competitive “AA” conference and weren’t quite sure what to expect, according to head coach John Tsapelas.
The results turned out to be quite good, as Bowne played to a 12-4 record in its conference this season and clinched its first borough title in program history.
“We knew we had the talent, but we didn’t know how easily we would be able to adjust to the new league,” Tsapelas said. “Obviously that took a little bit of time. We certainly had our ups and downs. We had some tough losses and some great wins along the way, and I think as the season progressed, we started to come together and improve.”
Bowne opened the season relatively well. After splitting their first two games, the Wildcats rattled off six consecutive victories to improve their record to 7-1.
Senior Christian Hinckson credited the team’s mindset for its early season success.
“We actually had a lot of confidence heading into the season,” Hinckson said. “Even though we were moving into a new division, we’re not new to basketball.”
While the team was playing with confidence, Tsapelas said he was surprised to see his squad play so well so early in the season against tougher competition.
“We believed we would definitely be competitive,” he said. “We did not think we would achieve the success that we did as quickly as we did.”
One game in particular stood out for Bowne in the midst of their early winning streak: a victory over perennial powerhouse Benjamin Cardozo. The Wildcats defeated the Judges 99-79 in their first matchup, which gave the team even more confidence moving forward.
“The win against Cardozo to start, that was a big one for us,” Tsapelas said.
After the Wildcats extended their winning streak to six games they fell to High School for Construction and Queens High School of Teaching in back-to-back contests.
Bowne’s loss to Teaching would prove to be significant and would set the stage for a high-stakes rematch in the last game of the season. Teaching was going for a perfect season and boasted a 15-0 record heading into the matchup, while Bowne was battling for a playoff spot. The underdog Wildcats overcame the odds and secured a 90-88 victory, handing Teaching its first and only loss of the regular season.
“The last game of the season against Queens High School of Teaching, who manhandled us earlier in the season, was huge,” Tsapelas said. “We spoke about not having pressure on ourselves and how the pressure would be on them, being an undefeated team at the time. We were hoping that they would overlook us a little bit and we thought we could upset them.”
And they did.
Bowne entered postseason play oozing with confidence after its win over Teaching and cruised past Thomas Edison in the first round and Springfield Gardens in the second, setting the stage for the rubber match against Teaching in the borough finals.
Both teams were looking to clinch their first ever borough championship and Bowne was able to get it done, earning a 66-63 victory to secure the title.
“There was a great atmosphere. The crowd was loud and all that was going through my head was that we made history,” Hinckson said. “It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
After capturing the borough title, Bowne pushed forward into the city tournament. The Wildcats earned a first round bye as the No. 3 seed and defeated 14th-ranked Paul Robeson in the second round.
That’s as far as Bowne would get however, as the team fell to No. 11 Jefferson in the third round, marking the end of what can only be described as a successful season.
Tsapelas acknowledged the team was feeling blue after the loss and said injuries played a factor, though he wouldn’t use that as an excuse.
“We were banged up quite a bit,” he said. “Christian Hinckson turned his ankle in practice. Our point guard had pulled a muscle in his calf during the Robeson game. And (sophomore) Alejandro (Vasquez) came down with a cold, so unfortunately, we weren’t playing at full strength in that game. I guess the season kind of caught up with us. We were kind of hobbled and they came out with a lot of intensity that we couldn’t match at that time.”
Tsapelas wouldn’t let the loss keep the team down and it’s clear he — and his players — are proud of what they were able to accomplish this season.
“I think we had a great run,” Vasquez said. We beat a lot of odds and even though we didn’t go as far as we wished we’d go, we still did something no one thought we could accomplish. We’re all still very proud and it means a lot that we were the first ones to bring the title to John Bowne.”
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe