By Ray Gallagher, Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays
Our unlucky student athletes seem cursed these days. Just when we got back into a logjam of action last Thursday, Mother Nature blew us off course with a slew of cancellations on Friday, followed by major setbacks to Sunday’s Slam Dunk Challenge at Iona College. With COVID- and weather-related cancellations getting the best of us since coming out of the holiday break, we got some peak league-related action on Thursday only to see a mini-storm push through early Friday and more ice on Sunday, thus adding to an already-packed menu of make-up games.
Thursday’s stop took us to MAHOPAC where the Indians (3-3) played host to a SOMERS club that has been searching for its hoops legs after a prolonged 2021 football campaign. What some folks in Somers don’t quite understand is that it’s going to take some time for veteran Coach Chris DiCintio’s Tuskers to get up to speed. DiCintio is literally implementing a plan of the fly, each and every day since his Tuskers (1-6) showed up fashionably late to the hardwood on account of a NYSPHSAA soccer title and a state finals appearance on the grid.
Basketball is a complicated game, especially when you mix in four talented sophomores, who have never faced this level of competition, and your seniors and juniors are still adjusting from overtime on the pitch/grid.
Still, there are grumblings at Somers. Why do we have so much success in soccer and football, but we’re 1-6 in basketball? Well, we just laid out part of the problem. Another issue, like it or not, is the fact that Somers was never a basketball powerhouse before DiCintio hopped aboard nearly a dozen years ago. The cupboard was bereft of prime-time hoopers when he arrived, until John Decker’s teams came along.
It took some time to change the culture, but the Tusker culture was alive and well last Thursday after Mahopac went off for a 22-7 first-quarter lead. Somers could have folded right then and there – but in the old-school images of Gilroy, Tradito, Bicknese, Maestri, Pires, Fecci and Decker – the Tuskers did not quit. Somers cut the deficit to three late in the fourth, only to see Mahopac senior Michael Callahan drop consecutive free throws in the waning seconds to secure the win.
“In all my years of coaching, more than two decades between Somers and Rye, I’ve never coached a team as snakebitten as this one,” DiCintio admitted. “We’ve already lost three games this year in the last 30 seconds. Our kids (at Somers) have enjoyed enormous success in soccer and football this year, and just like they did in 2016 when we won state titles in both, there’s a process of development that requires patience. If we were running five or six seniors out there, it might be different, but we’re giving four sophomores major minutes, and we’re asking our football players to play basketball one day after a heartbreaking loss in the state finals. Talk about a rock and a hard place.
“We saw the light at the end of the tunnel against Mahopac, though,” DiCintio added. “We could have quit right thereafter that first quarter when we were hit with things we’ve never seen from Mahopac, which we scouted and knew what to expect.”
What the Tuskers didn’t expect was a barrage of threes from Indian senior G Max Gomes, who went for the vast majority of his career-high 20 points in the first quarter. Indian G Patrick McMahon and F Ryan Reilly each added a dozen.
“Max got us going,” Mahopac Coach Tom McMahon said. “Somers is way too talented to go away. I thought we played great defense, except for the second quarter. Somers is very good. I know they were winless before today, but they have played some tough opponents and coming off a soccer state title and a football state final, it’s impossible to try and get ready for basketball.
“Callahan had a great game for us and hit the big 3 late and then the free throws to put it away,” the coach added. “Ryan Reilly was really good for us inside and I thought Colum Ranaghan played great defense.”
Somers did manage to post its first win of the season in Saturday’s 57-51 win over host YORKTOWN, which has lost three of the last four, including a 57-50 setback to John Jay CR last Thursday.
In the Somers/ Yorktown game, Tusker junior F Matt Fitzsimons scored 15 of his game-high 20 points in the first half while Bennett Leitner (13) and young Andrew Violante (14 second-quarter points off 4 treys) did major damage.
“We finally closed one out,” DiCintio said. “Felt good for the kids to do so.”
Senior F Eddie Brucaj led the Huskers (4-5) with 18 points, following a solid effort against John Jay CR, in which he posted a solid double-double (20 points, 14 rebounds). Billy Feeks had 14 points and seven boards in the loss to Jay.
Getting out to see Class A WALTER PANAS remains a major priority since before the break, and the Panthers (6-2) were supposed to be our first stop last Tuesday when they were set to take on sister school LAKELAND, but the Hornets dipped on account of a pause, and then the ice came Sunday when Panas was set to face WHITE PLAINS in the Slam Dunk Challenge (congrats to legendary White Plains Coach Spencer Mayfield on his 400th career win previously #MuchRespect!).
Panas then ventured to the other side of town for a league tilt against neighboring rival HEN HUD, who hung tough before a 26-point fourth-quarter outburst from the Panthers, who went on to produce a 62-52 League I-D win.
Panther hotshot Alex Tavarez led a rusty Panas club with 23 points while Maleek McNeil and Oliver Smith each had 12 points. Hen Hud led by a point after three quarters and smelled an upset before the Panthers snuffed it out on the boards and went to work in the fourth.
“We were pretty rusty out of the gate,” Panas Coach Mike Auerbach said. “Three weeks between games with a really scattered practice schedule hasn’t been ideal, but Hen Hud played well, too. They did some stuff that made us a little uncomfortable and we didn’t adjust well enough early on. I think at this point a win is a win though. With so much uncertainty every day, we take it and move forward.”
Gino Wamack had 14 points to pace four Sailors in double digits.
Hen Hud hung as tough as it could but size matters when it comes to Panas, and the height-challenged Sailors (4-4) couldn’t measure up on the glass down the stretch.
“Our guys played very tough and executed really well,” Sailor skipper Jordan Hirsch said. “We need to clean some things up and keep improving as a team, but Panas is very, very tough. They really hurt us on the offensive glass with their size in fourth.”
OSSINING was looking to step up in class when the Pride (4-3) paid FOX LANE a visit last Thursday, but the Foxes (5-3) showed why they are in the hunt for the league title behind a 62-44 win. Fox Lane could not keep that momentum going, though, and suffered a 41-33 loss to undefeated North Rockland (9-0), which is taking Class AA by storm with quality wins over the Foxes and Panas.
CARMEL (0-2) has played just two games due to a late start on account of its state football championship in early Dec., but the squad looked like it shook off a bunch of rust in Saturday’s 73-62 loss to Scarsdale (7-2), one of the top teams in Section 1 to date. Ram F Nick DiLeo looked fresh as he dropped 20 points and snagged five boards. Andrew Fiore (16 points, 3 rebounds and Randy Aboagye (10 points, 5 boards) were solid contributors on both ends of the floor.
HALDANE sent visiting CROTON packing with a 73-39 loss last Thursday when the surging Blue Devils (7-1) saw every player on the team score, including Matteo Cervone (14), Soren Holmbo (14), Ben Bozsik (13), Robert Viggiano (10) and Ryan Eng-Wong (7).
Haldane then posted a 68-60 win over visiting Section 9 foe Chester Saturday behind 19 points from swingman Soren Holmbo. Cervone dropped another 17 and Tristen Reid went for 14 as the Blue Devils continue to live up to the hype they’ve injected into the community.
“Matteo Cervone, Soren Holmbo, are leading us offensively and Robert Viggiano and Ryan Irwin are all averaging double digits,” Haldane Coach Joe Virgadamo said. “We also have Tristen Reid, Ben Boszik and Will Bradley being explosive on offense as well as some others coming off of the bench. Our ability to share the ball and make the extra pass has been a huge factor to our success as well as our defensive intensity.”
PUTNAM VALLEY (0-5) hung tough with Class AA John Jay EF before falling 58-55 behind a team-high 13 points from senior G Cole Durocher. Senior G Tommy Calicchio and freshman forward James Apostolico (career-high) added nine points apiece. The improving Tigers will have their mettle tested today when they host League III-E rival Haldane.
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.