Quartet Among Expected Challengers for Upcoming Regional Playoffs; Don’t Sleep on Lakeland
By Ray Gallagher
Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays
& Rob DiAntonio @RJD_Photos
Let the playoff speculation begin. With the release of its regional postseason breakdown last Monday, Section 1 has plotted a course for regional culminating events for boys’ and girls’ hoops, so that means coaches and players can begin scouting one another in earnest because they know who’s in their respective brackets. There won’t be much time for interpersonal scouting, though, as the playoffs were set to tip-off Wednesday afternoon (with playoff seeds released today).
Teams won’t have long to gather intel on one another because the seeding meeting is scheduled for today (Tues., 3/9) with quarterfinals to follow tomorrow (Wed., 3/10), semifinals (Thurs., 3/11) and the finals set to wrap up at the highest remaining seed on Sat., 3/13. Coaches will rely on scouting reports and game film for teams they had not been prepared for, though most anticipated the regional groupings the Section 1 Executive Committee had released.
We broke up this week’s notebook accordingly, taking a look at the second season, which gives every team a new lease on life in a year that’s been anything but normal.
“It’s a crazy season,” Yorktown Coach Mark Pavella said after his Huskers were shocked, 64-56, by previously winless Brewster Sunday. “Anyone can win any game in our region.”
Same can be said of just about any region in 2021 #GoodLuckToAll.
PUTNAM / NORTH WESTCHESTER
(Large School Group)
If I’m League B champion MAHOPAC Coach Tom McMahon, for instance, I’d have a set of eyes on League A champ FOX LANE, one of the top teams in the Putnam/Northern Westchester large school grouping, along with Mahopac and YORKTOWN. All three programs have had solid campaigns heading into the playoffs but all three can be picked off on a bad night. CARMEL, GREELEY, OSSINING, JOHN JAY CR and SOMERS round out the eight-team playoff field (as of press time Brewster opted out).
FOX LANE captured its fifth league title in the last seven seasons after earning two league victories over HORACE GREELEY last week. The previously undefeated Foxes finished a perfect 6-0 in their league and hope to bounce back from Sunday’s regular season-ending loss to Lakeland.
“It means a lot to the program,” said Foxes coach Mike Tomassi, whose team last won a league title two seasons ago. “Winning any games in high school basketball is hard but being able to put six games together to go 6-0 in a league that is all rivalries is awesome. I am happy for the boys. They worked extremely hard for this moment. This was one of our goals that we wanted to achieve this year.”
James DiBiasi’s 20 points and 10 rebounds led the Foxes to a 53-29 win over the Quakers on March 1. Oliver Shevick (8 points, 4 assists, 7 rebounds) and Dylan Watson (10 points, 7 rebounds) also were key contributors .
Two nights later, Fox Lane defeated Greeley again, this time by a 49-37 final. DiBiasi (10 points, 10 rebounds), Aidan Hicks (10 points, 4 assists, 6 rebounds), Aidan Giannelli (10 points) and Charlie Shevick (11 points, 5 assists) sparked the Foxes.
“We have 5-6 very good players that on any night can be our star,” Tomassi said. “We have great senior leadership with Oliver, James and Aidan Hicks. We are a true team that is unselfish and wants to move the ball to get the best shot. We don’t have any egos on the team and it’s all about winning. I think playing us is tough because we have such depth and so many guys can score the ball.”
Fox Lane squared off with previously unbeaten BRIARCLIFF, handing the visiting Bears their first loss in a 48-34 win on Friday. Hicks (12 points, 4 steals), Giannelli (8 points), Charlie Shevick (10 points, 5 assists) and Oliver Shevick (10 points, 4 assists, 6 boards) led them to the win.
The Foxes’ hopes for an unbeaten season were dashed after a 56-48 loss to Lakeland on Sunday. Oliver Shevick (11 points, 4 assists, 6 rebounds) and DiBiasi (15 points, 10 rebounds) both fouled out in a physical contest. Charlie Shevick added eight points.
Fox Lane (10-1) closed out the regular season at Peekskill yesterday and enters the Northern Westchester/Putnam large school regionals this week with the first round on Wednesday.
“Our goals are always to win a championship and this year will be no different,” Tomassi said. “We know it won’t be easy and we’re battling some injuries right now. We will need to continue to get better. It’s basketball and on any given day someone can be beat. We need to keep working and put ourselves in a position to be successful.”
Greeley (0-10) nearly pulled off an upset win over WHITE PLAINS last Tuesday, but gave up a late lead in a 57-53 defeat. Connor Melis (18 points), Owen Parsons (16 points) and Dylan Anderson (13 points) paced the Quakers.
The defending Section 1 Class AA champion Quakers lost to North Rockland 47-35 on Friday. Anderson had 18 points in a 40-37 loss to John Jay-Cross River on Saturday.
MAHOPAC pounced on visiting Arlington, 55-37, Saturday and finished the regular season at 9-1 behind three players in double digits, including Patrick McMahon (13), Max Gomes (12) and John Cosentino (10). This physical unit is loaded with multi-sport athletes and would appear, as the possible No.2 seed, headed for a potential third bout with Yorktown in the semis, and likely No.1 Fox Lane in the finals, so long as the brackets chalk out as expected.
The Indians locked up the league title behind a balanced effort over Brewster, 46-38, to finish league play 7-1. Indian C Ryan Reilly had 10 points and Cosentino added nine.
Teams that have not scouted OSSINING yet will soon notice the difference between Coach Mike Casey’s Pride before and after junior G Jaeden Carr’s return. The silky smooth Pride leader returned to a noticeably-boosted Ossining lineup last Tuesday when he debuted in a 72-67 win over PEEKSKILL. Carr dropped a game-high 26 points and snagged eight rebounds and three steals for the Pride (3-4), who have been exhaustingly inconsistent but remain a dangerous out.
“He’s a game changer,” Casey exclaimed! “He is our leader on and off the court. He’s been up on varsity since eighth grade. The three games that he missed, it was like having another coach on the sidelines. We know what he brings to the team and we are grateful he is back.”
Ossining eighth-grader Kris Banwareesingh (14 points, 3 rebounds) and senior point guard Khy’lell Hawkins (13 points, 8 dimes and 3 steals) each settled in nicely behind Carr. Eight Pride players were in on the scoring in all. Peekskill countered and made it close with a 21-point fourth quarter behind Jayson Tinsley (16 points), Ezekiel Jones (15) and Travis Brown (11). Peekskill senior F Brennan Heaven (5 points) was in foul trouble and finished well below his scoring average.
Ossining (3-4) showed a ton of promise before falling in a big way at LAKELAND Thursday, 85-64. The Pride were careless with the ball and Lakeland exploited at every turn, getting a game-high 21 points from senior F Aidan Welcome. From that point forward, Ossining took a downward turn and remains an enigma heading into the playoffs after losing to Panas as well, before recovering in Saturday’s 45-40 win over rival Sleepy Hollow. Carr had 15 points and eight rebounds while Hawkins had a well-rounded effort (12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists). Griffin Dahle snagged 12 boards for Ossining, which got off to a late start and has yet to scratch its surface.
“Dropping two of the last three has been a surprise,” Ossining Coach Mike Casey admitted. “All the credit to the teams we have played. Missing the first 10 days of the season has set us back, but knowing the fire power we have we are still confident in a strong finish.
Mahopac has the physical tools to match up with any team in the grouping, but can the Indians score the ball enough to eke out wins over equally tough defensive units like Fox Lane and Yorktown? The Indians needed extra time and two sets of heroics to beat Somers, 52-51, in OT last Wednesday. Indian G John Cosentino (17 points) hit a running 3-pointer to beat the buzzer to end regulation, and G Miles Buckley (13 points) nailed a conventional and-one three with three seconds left in OT. Like many of the slugfests in League B, it wasn’t pretty but it kept the Indians in the hunt for the league title, which they claimed when Yorktown lost to Brewster Sunday.
“Sometimes teams just need to find a way to win,” McMahon admitted. “Our guys showed strong character to prevail, and I felt bad for Coach DiCintio and their kids because they outplayed us tonight.
YORKTOWN has also won its fair share of low-scoring battles, but managed to put up 60 in an eight-point win over CARMEL on Wednesday. Somehow, though, the Huskers went off to BREWSTER on Sunday and suffered a critical 64-56 League B loss, giving Mahopac sole possession of the league bragging rights.
As he has done all season, Husker junior C Eddie Brucaj (12 points, 10 rebounds) wore down the Rams. He has that effect for the Huskers, who saw good-looking sophomore G Antoine Coles score a game-high 15 points. Huskers Tony Granitto and Jared Faivre each scored 11 points. Andrew Fiore (12 points), Nick DiLeo (10), Trevor Cayea had (9) and Kevin Dall (8) paced the Rams. DiLeo was coming off a 25-point, eight-rebound effort in the 55-53 loss to Yorktown the day before when Brucaj (16 points, 20 boards) and Granitto (9 points, 14 rebounds) dominated.
Prior to the Brewster loss, the Huskers (8-3) had finished up a strong week in a 50-48 win over Hen Hud when Faivre scored 13 points and Brucaj added eight points and 15 rebounds. Husker Tony Granitto (10 points, 10 rebounds) posted a double-double and was key in containing Hen Hud sniper Nick Hitlsley, who scored 20 points, four below his average. Rocco Capicotti added 13 points for the Sailors.
Carmel has come on strong of late but may lack the necessary scoring punch to advance to the second round. The Rams defeated John Jay EF, 73-67, when Nick DiLeo continued a torrid stretch of play with 19 points and five rebounds. Andrew Fiore had 19 points and eight rebounds while Kevin Dall (8 points), Trevor Cayea (9 points) and Randy Aboagye (7 points,13 rebounds) made solid contributions for the junior-heavy Rams (12 of 13).
Wins have been tough to come by at Brewster this winter but that didn’t stop Coach Tom Nelligans Bears (1-6) from play #Spoiler in Sunday’s win over Yorktown. Shane NcLaughlin and Connor Griffin scored 15 apiece and Kobe Hart added 14 points for the Bears.
PUTNAM / NORTH. WESTCHESTER
(Small School Group)
Had to feel bad for HALDANE, which was off and running with a 9-0 start, only to be hit with a 10-day quarantine. However, Coach Joe Virgadamo’s Blue Devils will be somewhat rusty but ready for today’s regionals. The Class B Blue Devils were playing hard for Coach V and deserved a shot at reigning Class C champion Hamilton, which they needed to prepare for some of the tougher teams they will see in the playoffs; like Class A LAKELAND, PANAS, and HEN HUD, plus a Class B BRIARCLIFF club that many are touting as the favorites after winning the Conference III Central League title.
BRIARCLIFF went unbeaten in its league to secure a league title, clinching the crown with a 49-43 win over host WESTLAKE last Wednesday. It’s the Bears’ first league title in three years. Westlake will compete in the Southern Westchester (Group 3) bracket of regionals.
“We had a call the day that they decided there wasn’t going to be a state tournament and we said we’re still going to compete for championships,” Briarcliff coach Nick Friedman said. “We talked about that all week if I’m being honest. I’m just really proud of our group that they accomplished that.”
The Wildcats led 22-18 at halftime, but Briarcliff erupted in the third quarter, outscoring Westlake 16-2 to take a 34-24 lead into the final quarter. The run was capped off by a Brett Lachtman drive and finish with four seconds left.
“We were really tight in the first half,” Friedman said. “When we play defense the way we’re capable of, we play loose on offense. When we don’t have energy on defense, we play tight on offense because we feel that we have to be perfect and make every shot. So we really just kind of joked around with the guys (at halftime) and got them loose. But we also said, ‘Let’s have better accountability on defense so we can enjoy ourselves on offense.’”
Westlake coach Chad Charney noted that costly turnovers helped swing the momentum in the Bears’ favor.
“I thought we were pretty confident coming into the second half,” Charney said. “I thought our adjustments were pretty good. We turned it over maybe the first four possessions of the second half and that was just big from a momentum standpoint where [Briarcliff] was just making layups on fast breaks or whatever else.”
Justin Silva, who scored a game-high 17 points, did all he could to get the Wildcats back in it in the fourth quarter. Hamad Azhar nailed a three and Silva connected on a runner midway through the quarter to trim the Bears’ lead to 36-33. Briarcliff junior forward Luke McCann finished inside on a feed from senior point guard Aidan Murnane to respond. Elliot Jones then made two free throws and hit a baseline jumper to stretch the Bears’ lead to 42-34 with just over two minutes to go.
Silva knocked down a three with just over a minute left then nailed another three from the left wing to make it a two-point game with 27 seconds left. McCann answered with a layup on the other end to stretch the lead back to four. Westlake’s Evan O’Brien missed a deep three and Jones corralled the rebound. He was fouled and made two free throws to seal the win.
Jones led the Bears with 12 points. McCann and Murnane added nine points apiece while Jayden Larregue and Lachtman had eight each. Friedman added that senior Spencer Safian stepped up off the bench when Murnane was in foul trouble in the first half.
Westlake star guard Carter Falkenberg was held to just three points by a swarming Bears defense. Falkenberg was scoreless in the second half. O’Brien finished with 10 points but only had two points in the second half.
“In the first half, they were kind of getting what they wanted, getting to their spots and getting some good shots,” Friedman said of Westlake. “In the second half, our guys were able to make it tough on them. Those are two really good players. I’m not going to miss seeing Carter. He’s been a thorn in our side for a long time. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
Charney commended a towering Briarcliff team for their defensive intensity.
“Those guys have been averaging close to 20 points each,” Charney said of Falkenberg and O’Brien. “Against other teams we can get the ball to the rim but against them, they’ve got two 6-6 kids and another kid that’s 6-7 coming off the bench. It’s a tough match-up. But they’re the best defensive team in Class B. We had a shot but they’re a really good team.
“This one is going to be tough to get over because we haven’t won [a league title] since ’91. I know our guys were really looking forward to that and hoping to beat them today. We’ve just got to refocus.”
The Bears endured their first loss on Friday night, falling to host Fox Lane 48-34.
Briarcliff (9-1) bounced back with a 55-50 win over host Bronxville on Sunday to close out the regular season. McCann went off for a game-high 26 points while Jones added 10 points and Larregue had nine points.
O’Brien poured in a game-high 31 points behind nine 3-pointers in Westlake’s 72-31 win over Rye Neck last Tuesday. Silva added 13 points.
Thirteen Wildcats scored, led by Silva (15 points) and O’Brien (13 points) in a 69-45 victory over Woodlands on Friday.
LAKELAND has gotten hot at the right time, having chalked up wins over Peekskill, Ossining and Fox Lane, which hadn’t lost all year before the surging Hornets knocked off the Foxes, 56-48, Sunday. Panas has done likewise with victories over Ossining and Hen Hud, the League C champ, which has tailed off down the stretch with consecutive setbacks (Yorktown).
But everybody was talking about the Hornets after Sunday’s stone-cold stunner.
“The guys have been bringing energy day in and day out over the last few weeks,” Lakeland senior G Marc Cummins said. “It took us a little longer than expected to find that first win, but we stuck together and once we did we kept rolling. Our confidence is through the roof, and with the playoffs coming up we couldn’t be in a better place, and after a win over a team like Fox Lane, I’d say Lakeland’s back on the map.”
Hornet Coach Steve Fallo never panicked after a rocky start that saw the Hornets open up at 0-5. Veteran swingman Rob Nardelli dropped 26 on the Foxes and hit 11 of 12 free throws during a pivotal 15-point fourth quarter that saw the Hornets outscore the Foxes 24-16. This, just a day after Nardelli dropped a career-high 27 on Somers in a 63-60 Hornet win.
“We’re just playing with a lot of confidence now,” the veteran coach said, “especially today with two starters out against Fox Lane. It was nice to see our younger guys step up. Defense, rebounding and free throw shooting was very good today. Senior Rob Nardelli has just refused to have us lose.”
Lakeland sophomore Logan Shiland hit three 3’s for nine points. In Lakeland’s 51-49 win over PEEKSKILL, Mark Cummins scored 13 points for the Hornets, who had four scorers in double digits. Brennan Heaven scored 14 points and Jayson Tinsley added 11 for the Red Devils.
PANAS (7-4, 4-3) just keeps on coming, too, evidenced by its 49-37 win over visiting Pleasantville Sunday, preceded by its 66-54 win over Ossining Saturday and a 48-44 win over Hen Hud. Imagine how much fun it would be if Panas and Lakeland were on opposite sides of the brackets and ran the table to Saturday?
In Panas’ win over Pleasantville, F Caleb Evans (14 points) and Oliver Smith (15) led the Panthers, who took a 19-10 first-quarter lead and never looked back. The Panthers were in a better offensive mindset in their 66-54 win over Ossining when sophomore G Alex Tavarez scored 21 points and Evans added 20. Smith, who is oncoming of late, added 10. Carr had 17 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Pride. Banwareesingh (17 points) and Hawkins (16 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) enabled the Pride to hang around.
In Panas’ 48-44 win over HEN HUD, Evans and Tavarez scored 15 points apiece. Nick Hiltsley scored 19 points for the Sailors (7-4, 6-2) while Capicotti added nine.
SOUTHERN WEST. (Group 2)
Westlake (9-2) played its fifth game in six days and earned a 70-58 win over VALHALLA on Saturday behind 21 points from Falkenberg. Teammates Silva (15 points) and O’Brien (13 points) chipped in for the Wildcats, who concluded the regular season against Bronxville yesterday.
“We’re looking forward to the playoffs,” Charney said. “Hopefully everyone can stay healthy. All these teams are dropping out and they’re quarantined. We’re just trying to go day by day and stay with it.”
Mahari Davis netted a game-high 21 points for Valhalla. Joe O’Neil added 13 points while Rashean Melvin had 10.
PLEASANTVILLE picked up an impressive 67-66 league win over visiting Valhalla last Wednesday. The Panthers had four players in double figures in scoring, led by Daniel Picart’s 15 points. Tommy McPhee (14 points), Dominic Matica (12 points) and Justin Cronk (10 points) also helped Pleasantville secure the big win.
“Coming into this season we had a very inexperienced team with no returning starters from last season’s team,” Panthers coach Bob Jordon said. “With every game those minutes on the floor are adding up, so the kids are getting more and more confident. We’ve shown that if we put a complete game together we can compete with the top teams.
Jordon said that they had plenty of open looks in the first meeting with Valhalla, a 51-37 loss on Feb. 27. He told his squad that they had to keep shooting and they “worked very hard in practice on Tuesday shooting those shots.”
“On Wednesday, those shots fell,” Jordon said.
Melvin sparked the Vikings with a game-high 27 points. Davis added 11 points while Michael Giuliano netted 10.
“We knew that Rashean Melvin was going to get his points,” Jordon said. “We just couldn’t let someone else beat us. Limit the others’ points and we had a chance to be in the game.”
Nick Bates had 14 points while Cronk added 10 in a 48-36 loss to Blind Brook on Thursday. Picart (20 points) and Cronk (18 points) led the Panthers to a bounce back win with a 68-22 rout of Woodlands on Saturday. Pleasantville (5-6) fell to host Walter Panas 49-37 on Sunday.
Melvin scored a game-high 18 points to lead Valhalla to a 50-32 win over Blind Brook last Tuesday. The Vikings finished the regular season at 4-4.
Matteo Sinon’s 26 points sparked BYRAM HILLS in a 56-42 league win over visiting John Jay-CR on March 1. The Bobcats went on the road and fell to the Wolves 59-48 two nights later. Brady Karp tallied a game-high 19 points and Sinon had 17 points in a 66-61 win over Pelham on Saturday. Teammate Tyson Repa added 10 points. The Bobcats (5-3) finished up the regular season when they traveled to Rye yesterday.
SOUTHERN WEST. (Large School Group 1)
It was an extremely busy week for WHITE PLAINS, who started it off with a massive 72-51 league win over visiting New Rochelle on March 1.
The Tigers, who arguably compete in the toughest public school league in all of New York State and have the most merciless regional grouping in Section 1, received a game-high 27 points from Tymir Greene. Mekhi Woodbury added 19 points. Teammates Joe Carrier (11 points) and Menzy Cardin (8 points) chipped in.
“It’s crazy, we had five games this week in six days,” said White Plains coach Spencer Mayfield, who joked that the Tigers can use some much-needed rest. “The body is not meant to do that after a year off. I want them to learn the mental toughness and take that away. When we’re in an adverse situation we’ve got to respond the right way.”
White Plains led New Rochelle 32-31 at halftime but outscored the Huguenots 40-20 in the second half to run away with the win.
The next day the Tigers had to come from behind to pull out a 57-53 win over host Greeley. Greene (15 points), Carrier (13 points), Woodbury (11 points) and Cardin (10 points) led the way for the Tigers, who receive balanced scoring on most nights.
“That matters,” Mayfield said when asked how critical balanced scoring is to the Tigers’ success. “We need guys to come off the bench and give us a few points. We have to get a balanced attack. If one or two guys are doing all the scoring then we don’t fare so well.”
New Rochelle turned the tables in the rematch, cruising past White Plains 77-52 on Wednesday. Carrier (12 points), Greene (11 points) and Woodbury (10 points) paced the Tigers.
White Plains lost to host Mount Vernon 90-63 in a league game on Friday. Woodbury netted a team-high 15 points while Cardin and Greene both had 11 points.
The battle-weary Tigers ended the week with a 71-59 win over visiting Eastchester on Saturday. Greene and Cardin tallied 21 points apiece while Woodbury added 11 points.
“We know Eastchester can shoot the three very well and we closed out on them a little bit better,” Mayfield said of the key to pulling out the win down the stretch. “We were able to stem the tide a little bit. And we matched their threes.”
White Plains was on fire from the start and took a 39-30 lead into halftime. They made 12 3-pointers in the game with Greene sinking five of them.
“In the first half I liked the way they moved the ball,” Mayfield said. “We had about 10 assists in the first half which was pretty good. Our goal is to try to always get 20. But we moved the ball a lot better.”
White Plains (6-3) finished its regular season when it hosted Mount Vernon yesterday and then will compete in the first round of the regional playoffs on Wednesday.
“I just want them to try to have some fun with it and grow from it,” Mayfield said of the mindset heading into the postseason. “Give my seniors a last experience at playoffs and my underclassmen an opportunity to prepare for the future.”
Ray has 33 years experience covering and photographing local sports in Westchester and Putnam counties, including everything from Little League/Travel Baseball to varsity high school prep sports and collegiate coverage. He has been a sports editor at Examiner Media since its inception in 2007.