WILDCATS 51, BONACKERS 40
It wasn’t so much overconfidence Shoreham-Wading River coach Kevin Culhane worried about prior to his team’s Class A playoff game against East Hampton Saturday night.
When the Wildcats faced East Hampton in the regular season just over two weeks earlier, they won by 42 points in their most lopsided victory of the season.
“Everything we did that game went in,” Culhane said.
But what if every shot they threw up didn’t fall? How would the players respond?
The Wildcats faced that scenario early on in front of a big crowd at Shoreham-Wading River High School. In a first half where the Wildcats shot only 25 percent from the field, they managed to take a five-point lead into halftime, not quite the 26-point advantage they enjoyed at the half Feb. 2.
“I knew this was going to be a tougher game,” Culhane said. “After being beaten by what we did last time, they were going to have a lot of pride and come back.”
The Bonackers held strong for a half, but with a shortened roster of only seven players, they couldn’t respond after Shoreham ran off a 12-0 run early in the third quarter. The Wildcats built a 26-point lead early in the fourth quarter and cruised to a 51-40 victory, the first playoff win under Culhane in his six-year tenure as head coach.
A 3-pointer from junior Kevin Turano jump-started the Wildcats’ run in the third quarter. He added another long ball two minutes later that gave the Wildcats their first double-digit lead of the game.
“I was off in the first half and it was good to hit a couple back-to-back and get some confidence,” said Turano, who finished with 11 points.
The Wildcats advance to play two-time defending county champion and top-seeded Harborfields on the road Tuesday. The Tornadoes won the Long Island crown last year and are 15-2 this season.
The Wildcats (12-7) got a big effort offensively from John Kovach against the Bonackers. The 6-foot-5 senior scored a game-high 20 points and did it under heavy pressure down low. The Bonackers (8-10) collapsed on him around the basket and dared the Wildcats to beat them from the outside.
But Kovach still got his opportunities. After a steal by Chris Mahoney, he threw a pass to Kovach on the break and scored plus a foul. He knocked down the free throw to put the Wildcats ahead 31-16.
“Him and Chris Mahoney were huge,” Turano said. “They got a lot of rebounds and are a big presence down low.”
The victory was the seventh straight for Shoreham, a team that stumbled to a 2-5 start in League VI. Few could have imagined at that point in the season the Wildcats would be planning a trip to Harborfields in the semifinals of the playoffs.
“I give those kids all the credit,” Culhane said. “Those kids could have said, ‘I’m grabbing my lacrosse stick, my baseball glove and I’m done.’ Those kids worked so hard and they deserve all the credit.”
The Wildcats stuck together to not only save their season, but give themselves a home playoff game.
They’ve done it with a group of players who all understand their roles, whether it be shooter, rebounder or defender.
“They know if they’re good offensively, they do this,” Culhane said. “If they’re good defensively, they do this. That’s something the last six games plus this that has been key. These kids have been a pleasure to coach.”
Robbie Bray added eight points for the Wildcats. He nailed a pair of 3-pointers late in the third quarter as the Wildcats took a 41-22 lead into the fourth. They then scored the first seven points of the fourth, capped by another bucket from Bray to open up the largest lead of the game.
“We were more pumped up and our press was working and getting turnovers,” Turano said. “We were playing with more adrenaline and that got us back on a roll.”