The first thing Mike Rapone wanted to do after Notre Dame notched a Section V playoff victory Wednesday night in Gainsville was find his daughter.
They embraced at center court and fans, friends and family gathered round.
When the Rapones moved over closer to a sign bearing the numbers 546, Mike Rapone looked up at the crowd, still holding his daughter close, and for a second, the emotion of the moment was clear in his eyes and a quivering lip.
With a 60-41 victory over Arkport, the Fighting Irish clinched the final spot in the Section V Class D1 championship, and Mike Rapone became the all-time wins leader in Section V boys basketball.
"(The record) means a lot to me because it means so much to the people I coached over the years," Rapone said. "So many of them are here tonight. They’re the ones who won the games. I’m the coach. You steer the ship, but they’re the sailors. They do all of the hard work."
The 56-year-old Rapone has a shot at victory number 547 in the Blue Cross Arena at 11:45 a.m., Saturday, when the Irish face Fillmore.
A win Saturday would give Notre Dame its eighth Section V title under Rapone. The Irish have also notched two New York State championships, in 1992 and 2001.
Starting forward, senior Tom Rapone, said victory meant a lot to the team and to him personally.
"I’m so happy to be able to get it for my uncle," Rapone said. "He’s done so much for me in basketball. I always dreamed of playing for him in high school. The fact that I was able to help break the record for him as the last Rapone to come through Notre Dame High School, it’s just an amazing feeling."
Despite the lopsided total at the end, Arkport didn't make it easy for the Irish to get the win for Rapone. While the Irish led from start to finish, Arkport pulled close near the end of the half, and again near the end of the 3rd Quarter. Too many missed shots in the 4th quarter, though, allowed Notre Dame to pull well ahead.
"It’s sectionals and no team is going to quit," said Tom Rapone. "We just came together as a team. We’ve got great chemistry. We know how to play as a team. We can turn it up fast. That’s all thanks to our coach. He’s taught us great things in practice. It’s all thanks to him. He’s an amazing coach."
Even when Arkport pulled within three points late in the 3rd quarter, coach Rapone said he felt his team knew it was going to win the game.
"I don’t think they ever lost their confidence that they were going to win," the coach said. "That’s the mark of a winner and that’s why they’re 19-1."
More pictures pictures after the jump.