Quakers Extend Winning Streak by Beating Mahopac

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Greeley sophomore Chris Melis shoots the ball during the Quakers’ 68-52 win over Mahopac.

It’s been over six weeks now since the Horace Greeley boys’ basketball team last lost a game, so head coach Felix Nicodemo had no reason to panic on Saturday afternoon when visiting Mahopac scored the first dozen points of the third quarter, erasing the Quakers’ 10-point halftime lead.

“There was not any point in this game I thought we weren’t gonna win,” Nicodemo would say after his surging squad had added the Indians to their growing list of vanquished opponents. “Over these past eight wins, we’ve had to grind out a lot of them. So it was familiar territory for this team.”

Chris Melis scored a game-high 17 points, while seniors Brandon Gecaj and Greg Karr combined for 29 more as the Quakers defeated Mahopac 68-52 for their second victory in 24 hours and improved to 10-3 this season. By the time Greeley faces archrival Fox Lane on the road Friday evening, the winning streak could be up to nine games.

“I think with each win, we’re getting more and more confidence,” said Nicodemo. “What I’m finding is every game is a dog fight. Every game in this eight-game winning streak, we’re grinding it out. No one said it would be easy. But I think if we’re getting tested now, it’s gonna make us that much better once sectionals come and everything gets amped up.”

Greeley’s latest test began with Melis scoring the Quakers’ first seven points of the game and finishing with nine in the opening quarter. Karr connected on a pair of treys and scored eight points as the Quakers built a 19-11 advantage after the first eight minutes. The Greeley lead stretched to 27-13 after a Noah Shar 3-pointer from the left elbow with 5:49 remaining in the half.

But Mahopac, which entered the contest with a .500 record, outscored the Quakers 10-6 over the rest of the period, trimming the Greeley lead to 33-23 when Justin Parker scored on a layup at the buzzer. When the third quarter started, the Quakers began turning the ball over and went scoreless for nearly five minutes. By then, the Indians had scored 12 straight points and taken the lead on a Kenny Perna 3-pointer with 3:30 left in the period.

“You know, it was actually déjà vu because the same thing happened in Ossining yesterday,” said Nicodemo. “I always tell my team the most important part of a game is the first three minutes of the third quarter because it can set the tone.”

The Indians’ 35-33 edge didn’t last long because the Quakers answered with their own 6-0 spurt as Gecaj made a short jumper on the right baseline and Melis scored on a put-back, then added two free throws just over a minute later. The third quarter ended with Mahopac’s Perna hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that cut the Greeley lead to 39-38.

“It’s disheartening when you play tough defense and then they score twice at the buzzer,” said Nicodemo. “It happens, and then you just roll with it to the next possession.”

Another 3-pointer by Shar, a junior sharpshooter, increased the Greeley lead to four 25 seconds into the final quarter. But Mahopac responded with a three from Rob Garcia before the Quakers went on a 9-0 burst, highlighted by back-to-back 3-point shots by Karr from the right wing.

But Mahopac closed to within 52-46 on a pair of free throws by Parker with 3:26 left on the clock. The foul was called on Melis, his fifth of the game. Less than a minute later, Karr would also foul out. Fortunately for the Quakers, Gecaj, who finished with 15 points, stepped up to provide some key buckets down the stretch.

First he scored on a layup while getting fouled with 3:11 left. He made the free throw, then scored a put-back basket with 2:48 to go that gave the Quakers a 57-46 cushion. When Mahopac closed to within eight points on another Perna trey, it was Gecaj who answered with consecutive baskets from the right baseline that gave Greeley a 12-point lead and all but clinched the victory.

“His game has progressed tremendously from November to where we are now,” said Nicodemo about Gecaj. “He works very hard. He plays with confidence and he shoots the ball with confidence. He hit big-time midrange shots tonight.”

The fourth-quarter contributions the Quakers got from both Gecaj and Karr helped quell the Mahopac comeback, and Nicodemo is relieved to know he has other players too he can rely on when the late-game pressure builds.

“What I’ve said all year long with this team is that what makes us tough to beat is how balanced we are,” he added. “If two guys foul out, two people come in and other people step up. We play together as a unit, and that’s why we’re difficult to defend sometimes because we have a variety of weapons that are able to step up at any given time.”

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