By Ray Gallagher
Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays
& Rob DiAntonio @RJD_Photos
The championships for Examiner-area teams were inevitable, given the number of local teams representing in the culminating regional events in this abbreviated 2021 boys’ hoops campaign, which concluded on Championship Saturday with the likes of FOX LANE, LAKELAND, WESTLAKE and BYRAM HILLS all being crowned in the respective regional groupings. The COVID-19-induced shortened season, though far from what we’re used to in Section 1, still delighted players, coaches and fans, who were thrilled with the opportunity to compete and strut their stuff.
Putnam / Northern Westchester
Large School Group
After a mediocre 2019-2020 season, FOX LANE was hoping for a turnaround season in 2021. The Foxes did just that and then some.
Top-seeded Fox Lane capped off a 14-1 campaign with a 57-48 win over No. 2 MAHOPAC in the championship game of the Putnam-Northern Westchester large school regional tournament on Saturday.
“Right after the season ended last year, we knew it wasn’t where we wanted to be,” Fox Lane junior Aidan Giannelli said. “We really got in the gym almost immediately. Even with COVID, we tried to social distance as much as we could. But we were still practicing and getting up shots every day. We kind of just built a bond. We’ve been playing together, honestly, since middle school.”
Giannelli led the Foxes with a game-high 18 points and added five rebounds. James DiBiasi (11 points, 7 rebounds), Aidan Hicks (12 points, 6 rebounds), Oliver Shevick (9 points, 5 assists) and Charles Shevick (7 points) also sparked Fox Lane.
“It’s all the work we’ve put in during the offseason and it’s just the leadership,” DiBiasi, a senior captain, said of the turnaround from last season. “Last year, not to bash, but we didn’t have the greatest leaders. But this year, with the three captains I think we did a great job leading.”
Fox Lane was in control for most of the game but a deep three from the left wing from Mahopac’s John Cosentino trimmed the Foxes’ lead to 47-41 with 3:15 to go.
A minute later, DiBiasi answered with a tough finish through contact. He missed the free throw but 30 seconds later Giannelli converted a three-point play to squash Mahopac’s momentum and give the Foxes a 52-41 lead.
“We’ve got really great senior leadership and we’ve got guys that play hard,” Fox Lane coach Mike Tomassi said. “Those two possessions I think put the nail in the coffin for them. As much as it was kind of back and forth, I think that was the backbreaker. We’ve got tough kids and the guys really wanted it. The effort was fantastic today.”
Oliver Shevick, a senior captain, and Giannelli made four straight free throws after that and it was academic from there. Hicks heaved the ball high into the air as the final buzzer sounded and the Foxes celebrated their championship.
“We’ve just worked hard. Last year we were very young and we’re still pretty young,” Tomassi said. “We just really worked hard this offseason. Even during the shutdown throughout the spring and summer, these guys worked on their own. Luckily, we were able to get in the gym in early November. I think we deserved to be in this game and this team had something to prove because they weren’t happy with the way last year went. I’m really proud of them.”
The ball never sticks with one player in the Fox Lane offense and when a teammate is having an off night, the rest of the squad picks him up.
“That’s our No. 1 asset,” Tomassi said. “We’ve got five or six guys that can really score and also want to move the ball. It makes us very tough. It’s hard to scout us because you can’t take one or two guys away.”
“It’s huge,” Giannelli said of the team’s chemistry on offense. “I’ve had times throughout the year when I was struggling or another player was struggling. But we have a ton of shooters so we just keep moving the ball. Then we get open looks and get a shooter going.”
After a slow start offensively, Hicks put the Foxes on his back, scoring their first 10 points on the strength of two 3-pointers. Giannelli capped the quarter with a corner three to put the Foxes up 18-10.
“I think he willed us those first couple of minutes,” Tomassi said of Hicks, a senior captain who is committed to RPI for baseball. “Championship game, some nerves here and there and I think he kind of settled us in a little bit and we got into a groove in the first half. He’s been huge all year and he’s just a gamer.”
Junior G Patrick McMahon scored 12 to lead the Indians while C Ryan Reilly added 10 points for No. 2 Mahopac (11-2), which advanced to the finals after Thursday’s 51-43 win over visiting Somers. Mahopac, John Cosentino paced the Indians with 13 points against the Tuskers and McMahon added 10 for the Indians.
“Give all the credit to Mike (Coach Tomassi) and his guys at Fox Lane,” Mahopac Coach Tom McMahon said. “They are well-deserving champions. They forced their will upon us and made it difficult for us to get the ball where we wanted to get it.”
“Even though we came up short of the ultimate prize, I am so happy that our players were able to have a season and win a league championship and play for a regional championship,” McMahon added. “It’s not about the end result, but more the journey. I’m really happy for our seniors: Vin Bastone, Miles Buckley, Chris Clark, John Cosentino and Luke Syku that they were able to have a senior year and tremendously thankful to them for all that they have given to our program.”
The Foxes cruised past fourth-seeded John Jay-Cross River, 65-35, in Thursday’s semifinals. Hicks tallied a game-high 23 points and dished out five assists. Giannelli (13 points, 9 rebounds) and DiBiasi (11 points, 12 rebounds) were clutch contributors.
Fox Lane defeated eighth-seeded HORACE GREELEY, 53-37, in the quarterfinals. Oliver Shevick (18 points, 4 assists, 6 rebounds), Hicks (11 points, 7 rebounds), DiBiasi (9 points, 6 rebounds) and Charles Shevick (6 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds) helped stuff the stat sheet.
“When one person’s off, the other four are on,” DiBiasi said of the Foxes’ offense. “We rarely have scoring droughts.”
Connor Melis (13 points) and Zach Eichenberg (10 points) led Greeley, who finished 1-11 after winning the Section 1 Class AA title last season.
Mahopac knocked off No.6 SOMERS in the semis, 51-43. Cosentino had 13 points and McMahon, who came on strong in the second half, added 10 for the Indians. Somers crushed No.3 YORKTOWN, 87-64, in the opening round when Robert Repp (21 points) and Bennett Leitner (20 points) caused major issues for the Huskers. Jared Faivre scored 16 points to lead Yorktown while Eddie Brucaj (11 boards) and Antoine Coles had 14 points each. Tony Granitto added 11 points and 11 boards for Yorktown, which failed to finish strong, losing three in a row.
Putnam / Northern Westchester
Small School Group
Nobody saw No.5 LAKELAND’S 52-42 win over No.2 BRIARCLIFF coming after Coach Steve Fallo’s Hornets (9-6) opened the season at 0-5, but this talented group of multi-sport athletes were not to be denied despite the Bears’ overwhelming size advantage.
“These kids never doubted themselves,” Fallo said.”They believed in our system and knew they could beat anybody if we just played unselfish, team basketball.”
Which is what the Hornets did throughout the tournament, beginning and ending with senior Rob Nardelli, who had 17 points in the win over the Bears and a refuse-to-lose attitude since Lakeland got hot and finished the season having won 9-of-10.
“Rob’s a big-time, All-Section player, no doubt,” Fallo said of Nardelli, who closed the season strong, including 26- and 27-point games. “He simply would not allow us to lose. This was a great defensive effort all around.”
Lakeland senior F Aidan Welcome (14 points) and senior G Marc Cummins (9 points) enabled the Hornets (9-6) to establish and hold the lead throughout much of the game. Briarcliff finished the season 11-2 and never found its flow. Jayden Larregue led the Bears with 13 and Aidan Murnane added 10, but Lakeland posed some problems for all.
“They were very athletic, and hats off to them for being the better team yesterday,” Briarcliff Coach Friedman said. To their credit, we cut it from 12 to one late in the third and they didn’t panic and hit a couple of big shots.”
“We had an incredible year, led by our seniors,” Friedman said. “We’ll always have to wonder what a normal season would have been like and what could have been, but I do feel in our heart we know what we were capable of. Our kids are champions of our league, went undefeated in Class B and made the phrase ‘Today’s Not Cancelled’ real. We are very proud of what we accomplished and will continue to build our program on the backs of this year’s seniors. Thank you to Aidan Murnane, Brett Lachtman, Jacob Zednik, Spencer Safian, Sean Dy and the We’ll be back. Bears keep coming!”
The Bears defeated third-seeded Walter Panas 56-42 in Thursday’s semifinals behind 15 points from Jayden Larregue and 10 points from Zednik. Friedman added that Blake Smith was “huge off the bench defensively.”
Briarcliff bested No. 7 PEEKSKILL 48-40 in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. Larregue led the way with 18 points while Luke McCann added 12 points.
Lakeland advanced to the finals behind a heroic come-from-behind win over HALDANE, 51-50 triumph of the top-seeded host Blue Devils (10-1). Cummins banked home the winning shot with 1.5 seconds left as the Hornes overcame a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit. Again, Nardelli was insane, particularly in the fourth, going for 26 in all.
Matteo Cervone scored 19 for Haldane in the loss, while Dan Santos added 12 and Soren Holmbo finished with 10. Haldane also had its hands full in a 78-61 opening-round win over No.8 PUTNAM VALLEY (2-7), which fought back from a big-time deficit to make it a six-point game (67-61) with 2:50 left. In the end, Cervone, who scored a career-high 31 points, was unstoppable.
Southern Westchester Group 3
Behind a dominant second-half effort, top-seeded WESTLAKE pulled away for a 56-37 win over second-seeded Bronxville in the Southern Westchester Group 3 regional championship game on Saturday.
“I couldn’t be more happy with the way our season ended,” Westlake senior guard Carter Falkenberg said. “Finishing my high school career with a championship is all I ever wanted since working with my teammates since eighth grade, some since third grade.”
The host Wildcats led just 25-24 at halftime and actually trailed 14-2 to start the game.
“We made some adjustments defensively in the second quarter that really helped and carried into the rest of the game,” Westlake coach Chad Charney said. “We were down 14-2 early in the first quarter, we called a timeout and we were extremely calm and collected in the timeout. We have all seen some teams panic and add pressure to the situation. We came into the game knowing that if we shared the ball, we would get open shots, which we did.”
Justin Silva, a junior, scored nine points in the third quarter including two three-point plays in the final 1:16. The Wildcats outscored the Broncos 20-4 in the pivotal quarter, which was capped off by an Evan O’Brien right wing three to give them a commanding 45-28 lead as the bench erupted.
“We just made sure to keep our energy high because we know basketball is a game of runs,” Falkenberg said, “and that if we kept playing our hardest we would come out on top.”
Westlake defeated Bronxville 59-54 in overtime just five days prior to close the regular season. Silva (16 points), Falkenberg (14 points), Hamad Azhar (11 points), O’Brien (10 points) and Jure Maglic (5 points) led Westlake’s offense.
“The sharing of the basketball and the team concept has been key for the success the last two years,” Charney said of the balanced scoring. “When you have 3-4 guys that can dribble, shoot and score consistently, it allows you to be balanced and not have the pressure of one guy to carry the load.”
Westlake finished the season 12-2, a year after graduating a slew of key players from last season’s Section 1 Class B semifinalist.
“We had a lot of players work hard in the offseason to get bigger roles this year than they had last year,” Falkenberg said. “It was extremely important for us to have multiple threats from beyond the arc and inside the paint. Our team is special because we have very good chemistry and even though we may not be the biggest, we leave it all out on the floor. When me and my teammates dive for a loose ball, I know we are playing with intensity that no other team can match.”
The Wildcats’ two losses came at the hands of BRIARCLIFF.
“Of course we would love to see Briarcliff again in the County Center for the championship if it was a normal year,” Charney said. “But we are extremely proud and honored to be the regional champ. This group of seniors are a special group that all root for each other, are all really good friends off the court and they have been playing together since middle school and junior Wildcats. When you have a group that sticks together for all five years since I took over at Westlake, we knew we would have a special group.”
Westlake defeated fourth-seeded VALHALLA, 55-43, in the semifinals. Silva and Falkenberg tallied 13 points each while O’Brien (10 points) and Matt Pierro (8 points) chipped in.
Valhalla edged fifth-seeded Irvington 71-61 in Wednesday’s quarterfinals behind Rashean Melvin (17 points), Basiacka Butcher (15 points) and Mahari Davis (12 points).
Third-seeded PLEASANTVILLE fell to Bronxville 52-30 in the semifinals of the Southern Westchester Group 3 regional playoffs.
Southern Westchester Group 2/1
After graduating their starting five from last season, BYRAM HILLS began the 2021 campaign slowly, but caught fire down the stretch. The third-seeded Bobcats won the Southern Westchester Group 2 regional title, defeating fourth-seeded Sleepy Hollow 63-45 on Saturday.
“Something happened when the playoffs started where we really started clicking,” Byram Hills coach Ted Repa said. “Tonight, we fed off our defensive intensity and the enthusiasm from our bench. We were able to get a little lead and finished it out.”
Lightning quick senior point guard Matteo Sinon led the charge, dropping a game-high 21 points while dishing out seven assists. Bobby Chicoine (14 points, 15 rebounds), Brady Karp (12 points) and Ben Dreilinger (8 points) helped lead the balanced scoring Bobcats to the win.
“Everyone did their part and it was a great team win,” Sinon said. “It’s easy for defenses to key in on one guy but if everyone can do their part like everyone did today, we’re a hard team to beat. This is great and I’ve been trying to do this since my freshman year (win a championship). It’s awesome to win my last high school game, especially with everything that’s been taken away from us as seniors.”
Host Byram Hills used its suffocating defense to force turnovers and lead to easy buckets in transition. They jumped out to a big first half lead and went into halftime up 36-20.
“Our trainer said at halftime, ‘Is everybody playing well?’ It was one of those nights, at least in the first half, where everybody played well,” Repa said. “The second half was like a slugfest.”
Sinon picked up his third foul and headed to the bench midway through the third quarter. But Byram wouldn’t let the momentum slip away and held firmly to the lead, going into the fourth quarter with a commanding 49-32 advantage.
“This isn’t the first time they’ve done that. I’ve gotten in foul trouble a couple times this year,” Sinon said. “They always hold it down for me. I know they’ve always got my back and I’ve always got their back.”
Sinon, who battled an ankle injury throughout the playoffs, used his explosive first step to get past Sleepy defenders for pull-up jumpers or to get to the rim. When the defense collapsed him, he found open Bobcat teammates for easy layups.
“Matteo obviously does everything for us,” Repa said. “I think he showed everybody how valuable he is to us and was great throughout the playoffs. The practice before playoffs started, he rolled his ankle really bad and we didn’t think he was going to play. He’s been icing and taping it up every single game. It’s been beautiful to watch.”
“The thing that we talk to Matteo most about is because he’s so talented sometimes he tries to do too much. Maybe even the rolled ankle made him trust his teammates a little bit more. He gets so many open shots for his teammates and then that opens it up for him.”
Byram grinded out a 52-47 road win over Ardsley in semifinals behind 15 points and 15 rebounds from Chicoine. Sinon (7 points, 12 assists), Karp (9 points) and Justin Gordon (8 points) were key contributors. Karp and Daniel Ahern led the defensive effort as the Bobcats held Ardsley to just 10 points in the first half.
The Bobcats, who finished the season 8-4, beat Edgemont 58-45 in the quarterfinals. Sinon (17 points), Chicoine (15 points, 19 rebounds), Karp (11 points) and Gordon (11 points) led the way.
“I did not think this was going to be one of our stronger years,” Repa admitted. “For these kids to win their last game, especially these seniors, it’s a pretty unique thing. We tried to view this season as an opportunity and to be grateful for it. And I think they took that approach, especially once the playoffs arrived.”
Fourth-seeded WHITE PLAINS fell to fifth-seeded Scarsdale, 53-44, in the quarterfinals of the Southern Westchester Group 1 regional playoffs.