Say this about the Shoreham-Wading River boys basketball team: the Wildcats know how to win close games.
In their four non-league victories to open the season, the Wildcats have outscored their opponents by a total of 14 points. They won three games by four points and another by two.
Shoreham coach Kevin Culhane said he didn’t even realize just how tight it had been until a coach mentioned it to him recently.
For a team that lost several key players from last year, the Wildcats will gladly take the wins and hope the experience of playing in close games pays off during what should be a challenging league schedule.
“I’m trying to work kids in different spots,” Culhane said. “And I had some kids really step up.”
The driving force for the Wildcats’ early success has been their defense. They’ve held opponents to an average of 42.5 points per game. They’ve yet to surrender more than 46.
“Our defense has definitely carried us the first four games,” Culhane said.
The Wildcats’ win streak came to an end Tuesday with a 49-39 loss against Eastport-South Manor.
Culhane admitted it sometimes takes the offense a little longer to get going. But the way the players have committed to their man-to-man defense has Culhane excited about the season.
“The kids have bought into playing hard-nosed, man-to-man defense,” he said. “We slide in a zone once a while.”
Last year the Wildcats had great size down low. That won’t be quite the case this year, but they do return a talented point guard in Kevin Turano, who will run the show.
As a sophomore, Turano played on varsity backing up Kevin Davis, who was an all-county player. Last year, that experience of battling in practice helped propel Turano as a junior to a big season in a starting role.
The Wildcats will rely on Turano for offense this year, and he’s shown he’s up to the challenge. He’s led the team in scoring in three of the four games while averaging 15.8 points. At the end of games Turano has been lights out from the free-throw line, Culhane said.
“Teams are going to key on him,” Culhane said. “We’ll need other players to step up, at least offensively.”
Senior Tim Rotanz is another returnee who can score for Shoreham. Rotanz started about half the games last season as a wing player. He scored 16 in a season-opening win over Sayville and has averaged just under 10 a game so far.
Seniors Travis Qualley, Mike Julian and Sean Dowd have all been leaders on the team, Culhane said, instructing the younger players and serving almost like assistant coaches.
An addition from the JV has been Chuck Agius, who’s a strong on-ball defender.
Three sophomores are also up on varsity. Danny Hughes, Jonah Caldwell and Jake Blandi, who’s 6-foot-6, are all working into the mix.
Juniors Sean Condron and Mitch Idtensohn will both play key roles and are returning varsity players. Idtensohn played his best game of his career against Hampton Bays when he scored 17 points.
“He was really strong inside and active on the boards,” Culhane said. “We need that inside presence.”
The Wildcats reached the semifinals of the Class A playoffs last year before losing to state champion Harborfields. Every game in the league season will be a battle this year. Amityville and Bayport are strong programs. Mount Sinai and East Hampton have good teams and John Glenn and Miller Place won’t be pushovers.
“The league is loaded,” Culhane said.