Rivalries Galore: Locals Get Down, Dirty on Hardwood

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Section 1 Boys Basketball
Panas sophomore G Alex Tavarez has had a sensational start to 2021 season for undefeated Panthers.

Panas Nips Lakeland, Mahopac Sweeps Carmel, Briarcliff Clips Pleasantville; Haldane Handles PV

Examiner Sports Editor @Directrays & Rob DiAntonio @RJD_Photos

Thankfully, the schedule makers wasted no time. It was virtually rivalry week as we embarked upon the local Section 1 hoops season as many bordering foes had at it in Week 1 of the 2021 campaign.

League titles, in fact any titles, will take on significant meaning in Section 1’s abbreviated, five-week season, which will culminate in regional playoff divisions set to be approved by Section 1’s Executive Committee some time in the near future.

Early action has been fast-paced and furious, littered with upsets, come-from-behind wins, fatigue and overtime thrillers, including an epic double overtime rivalry war between sister schools Walter Panas and Lakeland, which the Panthers essentially stole, 70-68, but then turned around and lost to Yorktown in Sunday’s knock-down, drag-out affair. Here’s how some of the action shook out.    


WALTER PANAS has shown that it can and will challenge for the league title and anything else that comes its way after the win over LAKELAND, which hung tough behind a career-high 25 points from senior G Rob Nardelli, who hit five shots from behind the arc. Panas would hit three key hoops, though, to force overtime, double OT and the win. At the end of regulation, senior F Caleb Evans hit the biggest of his 25 points; and the end of the first OT Cam Nicholas hit the biggest shot of his career, an NBA-range trifecta; before silky smooth sophomore G Alex Tavarez drained the game-winner with 3.6 seconds left to cap an incredible win.

“We were a little sluggish to start against Lakeland,” Panas Coach Mike Auerbach said. “I think the schedule caught up to us some, but more importantly Lakeland was red hot early on.  They have a ton of depth from the perimeter, so if you’re not sharp mentally and engaged physically on the defensive end, which we weren’t, they can really make you pay.

Nardelli did so throughout. Lakeland held a 10-point lead before Panas saw the combination of Evans (17 boards) and Tavarez (21 points, 9 assists) emerge, and when this dynamic duo clicked, it became tough to contain. Nicolas added 12 crucial points, all from distance. 

“Our guys really responded in the second half,” Auerback said. “We went to some full court pressure, which we really haven’t spent much time working on and it turned the game for us. We look good when we’re playing with energy and have a lot of guys who will make the extra effort plays. Caleb Evans was outstanding!  His defense has been really good as well. He’s very mobile to go along with being 6’3″. He’s taken on a leadership role for us this year, too, which was needed after graduating eight seniors.  Tavarez makes everything go for us offensively.  He’s been creating good looks for himself averaging 20 a game through our first three games, but more importantly he’s gotten everybody involved in the offense. Our next handful of guys have all been big contributors, too. Rob Simmonds has played excellent defense and provided some timely baskets late vs Lakeland.  Oliver Smith and Dillon Chenard have both been reliable on both ends of the court seeing their first varsity action. Cam Nicholas has provided a lot of offense off the bench.  He saved us with a deep three at the end of the first overtime vs Lakeland.”

Panas roared out of the gate with a pair of convincing wins, including a 57-32 win over Greeley, the reigning Class AA champions. The Class A Panthers backed that up with a stellar defeat of John Jay CR, 62-48. Tavarez is an emerging star; there’s no other way to put it, dropping 19 on the Wolves and 21 on the Quakers. Panthers Smith and Nicholas had 14 points each in the win over Jay. Smith, one of several bigs at Panas, added a backboard-shaking flush for good measure.

In the Greeley win, Rob Simmonds and Smith each tallied 11 points for Panas. Quaker G Zach Eichenberg paced Greeley with seven points while Connor Melis and Sam Rosenberg added five apiece for Greeley (0-1), which lost all five starters from arguably the best team in school history. Panthers Etan Linton and Smith scored 11 points apiece for the Panthers, who saw Evans add nine points.

Tavarez finished with a team-high 17 in the 44-40 loss to Yorktown.

HEN HUD pulled off the upset of the day last Tuesday in a 77-72 win over host PEEKSKILL, which had total control throughout the first half until Nick Hiltsley commandeered the wheelhouse and went for a career-high 37 points to go with 14 boards and three steals. The senior swingman was the best athlete on the floor.

“Nick was a warrior, especially in the second half,” Sailor Coach Jordan Hirsch said. “Never count out the Sailors. Peekskill has a heck of a basketball team. They went on a big run in the first half with some really athletic play on their part and as you know, you’re never really leading comfortably when you play them.

“Our guys were so excited to play tonight that I think our emotions got the best of us in the first half,” Hirsch added. “We needed to settle in and focus on what we could control within the confines of the game. To our guys credit, they took some halftime adjustments and anchored themselves mentally on what we think is important and chipped away until the game was over. That win was all the kids and I’m really happy for them.”

The kids were alright, to quote the Who, including Rocco Capicotti (6 points, 7 rebounds), Jack Kapfer (7 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), Josh Gillison (10 points, 9 boards) and Dean Hiltsley (15 points, 4 assists). The ceaseless rivalry between the Red Devils and Sailors brought out the best of both programs, which combined to put up decent numbers in the first game of the season, showing little rust offensively. 

“It’s a wonderful rivalry,” said Hirsch, who balled for the Sailors back in the day. “We have so many connections between the two towns. I loved it as a student and now as an alum and a coach. We’re looking forward to playing them again tomorrow in what will undoubtedly be another tough and hard fought game.”

Indeed it was and Capicotti was at the forefront of Hen Hud’s sweep of the Red Devils on Wednesday, going for 19 points, 12 boards and three blocks in a 78-64 Sailor win. Nick Hiltsley scored a game-high 23 to go with 10 caroms.

“Felt great to be back in the Donavan, our home gym,” Hirsch said. “The stat sheet was really well rounded, which I’m really proud of, but I’m even more proud of how our guys stuck together in our first tests of the season.”

Dean Hiltsely and Jack added 14 points apiece for the Sailors. 

Peekskill F Brennan Heaven scored 20 points for the Red Devils and went for a team-high 19 in the season-opening loss. Travis Brown added 33 combined points in the two setbacks.

The Sailors (3-0) capped off the week with a 76-58 win over Sleepy Hollow Saturday when four players went for double digits, including Nick Hiltsley (21), Dean Hiltsley (17), Gillison (12) and Kapfer (11).


MAHOPAC swept CARMEL in the home-and-home set and has emerged as the early favorites to take the League B title due to its depth and athleticism. The Indians could run the table in this league if they play to their potential and work a very high seed for regionals, unless YORKTOWN has something to say about it, which they might if they play like they did in Sunday’s 44-40 win over visiting Panas.

“Agreed, Mahopac is athletic, strong, good size and they’ve been playing together in the off-season so they’re on the same page,” Somers Coach Chris DiCintio said of the Indians.

In Mahopac’s 55-31 triumph Indian senior G John Cosentino continued a torrid start, backing up a career-high 18-point effort with another 16 points. Junior G Patrick McMahon added a career-high 13 for Mahopac (3-0), who saw eight players score.

Cosentino scored 18 points Mahopac’s 57-45 season-opening win over visiting Carmel and Vin Bastone chipped in with 10 points, but the biggest win of the week came in Saturday’s 69-64 win over John Jay EF, which roared out to a 20-point lead before the Indians gathered their wits in the 11 a.m. start. “Yeah, that was two different games in one,” Mahopac Coach Tom McMahon admitted. “We weren’t tough for the first 12 minutes and then finally got our stuff together.”

Kennedy transfer Miles Buckley had his coming out party for the Indians, scoring 19. Junior G Michael Callahan added a career-high 12 and junior F Ryan “Tree” Reilly went for 11. Bastone and McMahon added nine apiece. The Indians have only hit on 11 3’s this season, so that is a source of concern.

Carmel nearly got its first win of the season in a 50-46 loss to SOMERS, in which the Rams trailed 20-3 at one point. Behind Andrew Dileo’s 20 points and eight rebounds, and Kevin Dall’s nine points, the Rams battled back but buckled down the stretch and fell to 0-3. Somers also posted a 55-31 win over BREWSTER when Henry Gilroy hit for a career-high 20 points to lead the Tuskers. Matt Fitzsimons added 13 for Somers (2-1), who saw Robbie Repp drop 10 and Bennet Leitner go for 11 as nine Tuskers scored in the win over Carmel.

“Playing three games in four days has already reared its ugly head,” DiCintio said. “The team is 22 for 52 at the free throw line in those three games. It’s a real plus that our team is buying in on the fast break and we are limiting our perimeter jump shooting as the rust has yet to be shed, but winning games will not be easy unless we fix our shooting from the stripe. The kids are playing tough, physical defense with full court pressure.  It’s what has saved us up to this point. We have given up 31, 39 and 46 points so far. The whole season is a question mark, but I am thrilled for the kids as they seem to be enjoying themselves.  I’ll never take coaching a game for granted again.”

YORKTOWN chalked up its second win of the season in a 52-21 win over Lakeland on Senior Night Saturday, doing so behind a breakout game from junior C Eddie Brucaj, who scored the game-winning hoop and glistened on 24 points and 15 rebounds, both game-highs. Sophomore Antoine Coles (9 points) and  Tony Granitto (10 rebounds) were prime contributors for the Huskers, who also worked a 39-36 win over SOMERS behind 14 points and 13 boards from Brucaj. Jared Faivre scored 15 points for the Huskers and Granitto added four points and a game-high 14 rebounds for the Huskers, who gritted out the win over Panas behind Brucaj, who finished with 19 points and 11 boards, including four points in OT and a crucial block. The Huskers were clutch at the stripe down the stretch, getting four in a row from senior yeoman Granitto (6 points, 10 caroms) and freshman G Justin Price, who looks like the real deal. He and Coles (10 points) are a developing backcourt tandem, something to watch.

“We were dead tired today,” Auerbach admitted. “We couldn’t find a secondary scorer.”


FOX LANE stormed out to a 4-0 start this season with impressive wins over White Plains, Harrison, Yorktown and Byram Hills.

“Defensive energy and intensity have been a critical part of our early success,” Fox Lane coach Mike Tomassi said. “We also have a group that is motivated to be the best teammates they can be. Team success is better than individual success.”

The Foxes tipped off their season with a 52-36 rout of host Harrison on Tuesday behind 16 points and seven boards from James DiBiasi. Oliver Shevick (13 points, 6 rebounds), Aidan Giannelli (10 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds) and Charlie Shevick (10 points) also contributed for Fox Lane.

Fox Lane moved to 2-0 the next day with a 44-29 victory over Yorktown. Oliver Shevick tallied 14 points and seven rebounds while Giannelli added 10 points and four assists. Tony Granitto sparked the Huskers with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

The Foxes traveled to annual contender BYRAM HILLS on Friday and cruised to a 54-35 victory.  Oliver Shevick (12 points, 7 rebounds), Giannelli (8 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds), Charlie Shevick (12 points, 5 rebounds), DiBiasi (11 points, 6 rebounds) and Aidan Hicks (9 points, 7 assists) led a very balanced effort for Fox Lane.

“On offense we have 5-6 guys that can score 10 plus points a night,” Tomassi said. “We share the ball and play for each other.  It’s hard to scout and limit us when we share the ball. Each game a new guy can step up. We need to continue to share the ball and play together.”

Charlie Shevick scored a team-high 17 points as Fox Lane capped off their impressive opening week with a 52-48 win over host WHITE PLAINS on Saturday. DiBiasi added 11 points and 11 rebounds while Giannelli and Oliver Shevick chipped in eight points each.

“They are very good, they have a couple of high-level players,” Tomassi said of White Plains. “I thought we defended well, holding them to 48 points is a credit to our defense. Executing was another key part. When we were organized and trusted the system we got good shots. We didn’t fold. It was a grind from start to finish and I am proud of our guys.”

Mekhi Woodbury (20 points) and Tymir Greene (16 points) paced the Tigers (1-2), who opened the season by splitting a pair of games with Mamaroneck.

 Menzy Carden had 12 points and Joe Carrier added 10 in White Plains’ 60-54 season-opening loss to Mamaroneck. White Plains bounced back two days later with a 61-51 road win.

 “Our help defense was better and our pace on offense had a better flow,” White Plains coach Spencer Mayfield said of what changed for the Tigers from their first meeting with Mamaroneck.

Carden (15 points), Greene (14 points) and Shane Washington (10 points) paced White Plains in the win.

HORACE GREELEY, which graduated all five starters from last year’s Class AA section championship team, fell to host Walter Panas 57-32 in their opener last Tuesday. Zach Eisenberg had seven points for the Quakers (0-1).

Greeley had its game with John Jay-Cross River postponed on Friday due to snow. The Quakers’ contest against Clarkstown South on Saturday was cancelled after a Clarkstown player suffered a serious injury two minutes in and had to be taken to a hospital.


BRIARCLIFF is off to a 3-0 start with wins over rival PLEASANTVILLE, Blind Brook and WESTLAKE, a Class B section semifinalist last season. It was a balanced scoring effort for the Bears in a 56-38 rout of the host Panthers last Wednesday behind 15 points from big man Luke McCann and 11 apiece from Aidan Murnane and Elliot Jones. Brett Lacthman added nine points.

“We have a lot of guys who can score it,” Briarcliff coach Nick Friedman said. “The key is to make sure we take the right kinds of shots within our offense.  It was nice to see the balance but we did have long stretches where we weren’t taking the kinds of shots we want. This is something we will work on.”

Justin Cronk sparked Pleasantville (0-2) with a game-high 18 points. Daniel Picart tallied 12 points.

Murnane (14 points) and Jayden Larregue (13 points) sparked the Bears to a 56-34 win over Blind Brook on Saturday.

“Our half court man-to-man defense has to be the core of who we are,” Friedman said. “If we can get stops and take teams out of what they’re trying to run, it covers up a lot of the mistakes on offense and doesn’t allow another team to go on a big run.”

Briarcliff capped off a strong week when the Bears clawed to a 52-44 win over visiting Westlake on Sunday afternoon. Westlake led 36-31 after three quarters but Briarcliff outscored them 21-8 in the final quarter.

A Lachtman corner three tied the game at 40-40 midway through the fourth and was followed by a Larregue putback to give the Bears a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

 “It was our defense,” Friedman said when asked how Briarcliff was able to come back for the win. “When we pressure and play the way we are capable defensively, we relax on offense and everything flows. That will always be the key for us.”

Larregue and McCann led the Bears with 17 and 16 points, respectively. Jones added 11 points. Evan O’Brien (15 points) and Carter Falkenberg (14 points) sparked the Wildcats with Hamad Azhar adding 10.

Westlake (1-1) cruised past Pleasantville, 53-30, on Saturday behind 15 points from O’Brien. Falkenberg (10 points) and Azhar (9 points) chipped in for the Wildcats.

Byram (1-1) opened the season by erasing a 16-point second-half deficit to pull off a 67-65 win over Eastchester last Wednesday. Bobby Chicoine scored the winning basket on a feed from Matteo Sinon, who scored a team-high 21 points.

“We hit some big shots led by Matteo Sinon, but I think the X-factor was Matt Weiller’s defense,” Byram Hills coach Ted Repa said. “Eastchester’s No. 1 (Ryan Hunter) had 23 points entering the fourth quarter but was held scoreless in the fourth once we put Weiller on him.”

Ben Dreilinger had 13 points, nine rebounds and four assists for the Bobcats. Justin Gordon (10 points), Chicoine (9 points, 9 rebounds) and teammate Brady Karp (9 points) contributed to the win.

VALHALLA defeated Rye Neck 57-38 in its season opener on Saturday. Basiaka Butcher (13 points), Joe O’Neil (9 points), James McAndrew (8 points) and Rahsean Melvin (8 points) paced the Vikings (1-0).


HALDANE Coach Joe Virgadamo could not have asked for a better start to 2021. A balanced and determined Blue Devil unit has roared out of the gate to shred Beacon (70-55), Millbrook (75-62), North Salem (63-42) and rival PUTNAM VALLEY (76-54) in convincing fashion. Haldane senior G Daniel Santos is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenders. Quick and strong off the bounce, Santos has shredded nets, scoring 14 against the Valley, 22 against North Salem, 25 against Millbrook and 20 in the season-opener against Beacon.

“Daniel is a tough tough kid,” said Virgadamo, a tough player in his own right back in the day. “His ability to knock down shots, take a defender off the dribble, post a defender and finish in contact is special. He has great vision and controls the game. He is a true floor general and really drives our team. The kid is special. Someone is going to get a steal next year.”

Against Putnam Valley, the Blue Devils had four scorers go for double figures, including Matteo Cervone (22 points), Santos (14 points), Ryan Irwin (10 points) and Darrin Santos (10 points). The Tigers were led by junior G Cole Durocher (matched career-high 24 points), an icy shooter from distance, who kept PV in striking distance.

Against North Salem, Holmbo aided the attack with 18 points for the Blue Devils, who took over behind a 24-2 second-quarter run. Against Millbrook, Cervone (18 points), Holmbo (13 points) and Irwin (11 points) all hit for double digits.

Against Beacon, the Blue Devils held on to the Tunnel Trophy when Holmby went for 19 points and Cervone added 16 as complements to Daniel Santos.

“The kids are cherishing every moment,” Coach V added. “They are leaving it out there everyday and the hustle and effort have been amazing. This is a special team and group. The chemistry is one of a kind and it’s impressive how well we are playing in just two weeks. We just want to value everyday and get better everyday.”

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