PHANTOMS 67, WILDCATS 43
The Shoreham-Wading River High School boys basketball team has reached a fork in the road. Now the question is, which path will it take? Will it be the one that leads to the playoffs — or will they head south in the other direction?
That was the question the Wildcats were left to ponder Thursday night after they concluded the first half of their Suffolk County League VI season with a surprisingly one-sided 67-43 loss to Bayport-Blue Point at Shoreham-Wading River High School.
In a balanced, competitive league in which wins don’t come easily, Shoreham (5-5, 2-3) finds itself facing a challenge. If it wants to return to the playoffs for the second year in a row, it will need to win four of its six remaining league games.
“Are we capable of doing it? Yes,” Shoreham coach Kevin Culhane said. “It’s not going to be easy, but I believe the boys will give a good effort and we’ll give our best to get there.”
Bayport (5-5, 3-2), a county semifinalist last year, didn’t make Shoreham’s road any easier.
Some expected the game between the two teams to be a close one. “So did I,” said Culhane.
It was anything but, thanks to Bayport, which used a fast-breaking offense and a relentless full-court press to good effect. That was the game plan, executed to perfection, said Bayport coach Kyle Black, who called it the best game his team has played this season.
Black attributed the performance to a bye week that allowed Bayport a full week to prepare for the game. “Our guys have been kind of salivating at the mouth, waiting to get back on the court and play,” he said. “You have to come out with intensity and you have to play hard and focused for 32 minutes no matter what the score is, no matter who you’re against, no matter where it is, what the situation is, and approach every game like that.”
Shoreham’s only lead of the game was at 2-0 from a John Kovach basket. Bayport reeled off 15 straight points — 7 of them from Steve Longo — to build a 31-11 lead in the second quarter. And the Phantoms didn’t let up. They led by as many as 28 points on two occasions in the fourth quarter.
The Phantoms used their defense to create offense and scored layups off the quick transition. The fast tempo was to their liking. They shot 58.7 percent from the field.
“We’re trying to prove a statement, and I think we did that tonight,” said Connor Panzner, a sophomore guard who hit a pair of three-point shots and scored a game-high 18 points for Bayport.
Alp Akdeniz provided the Phantoms with 14 points.
But it was something else that struck Black as a difference-maker. “Really, it’s the effort,” the coach said. “That’s what I tell them, it’s the effort they give, the defense, the boxing out. I tell our kids I want us to be the hardest-working team out there, and that can take care of everything else.”
Culhane gave credit to Bayport. “I want to give congratulations to Coach Black and the Phantoms,” he said. “They came out, and their intensity really got us. They just seemed to be more energetic than us. Kudos to them. Bayport did a great job.”
The 6-foot-5 Kovach, who was an all-league player and the league’s rookie of the year last season, was Shoreham’s top scorer with 13 points while Kevin Turano chipped in 11.
Kovach, who aside from Chris Mahoney is the only one of the Wildcats who saw substantial playing time last season, called it one of Shoreham’s worst games. “We didn’t really have the intensity, the [will] to win like they did, and I think it really showed by the score,” the Shoreham co-captain said. “We know we’re better than this.”
Now the Wildcats have six league games left to prove it.