Mercy basketball team left in the dark on playoffs

02/14/2013 7:00 PM |
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO  |  McGann-Mercy junior Nykel Reese scored a team-high 16 points Friday night.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | McGann-Mercy junior Nykel Reese drives to the basket against Mattituck.

The 2012-13 high school boys basketball season began with cautioned optimism around Bishop McGann-Mercy. The Monarchs knew they had a deep team led by two strong all-around players in Nykel Reese and Asaiah Wilson. And they also knew playing in League VII put them at a decided disadvantage.

“Mercy looks like the [Class] C team to beat,” Newsday wrote in its season preview in December.

The Monarchs may very well be the team to beat. But they won’t get a chance to prove it in the playoffs.

The Monarchs finished 5-9 in League VII, leaving them two games short of the minimum .500 league record to qualify for the postseason. But given their more difficult schedule — which forced them to play 12 games against Class B schools — the Monarchs petitioned Section XI, the governing body for Suffolk County athletics, to allow them into the postseason.

The petition was denied.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we could win a county championship this year,” said McGann-Mercy coach Mike Clauberg.

The Monarchs are the largest of the six Suffolk County schools that fall into Class C. Classification numbers are determined by the state and can vary year to year. The eight smallest schools in the county form League VIII. Four of those schools are Class C and four are Class D.

The Monarchs and Port Jefferson were the only Class C schools in League VII. The Monarchs won both games against the Royals this season.

But the Monarchs were just 3-9 against Class B teams, leaving them with a league record of 5-9.

The Stony Brook School, which went 14-3 in the lower league, received the No. 1 seed for the Class C playoffs. Pierson (11-7) was the No. 2 and Greenport (10-7) the No. 3.

On Tuesday night, Pierson defeated Greenport, 63-41, to advance to the county final.

Stony Brook played only one Class B team and lost by 26 to League VII champion Babylon.

Clauberg said Section XI denied the petition because McGann-Mercy didn’t play enough games against Class C schools. Clauberg said he tried to schedule a few more non-league games against Class C teams but they didn’t pan out.

Instead, the Monarchs played Shelter Island and Smithtown Christian, two Class D schools. They won both games. Their other non-league games included a loss to Lindenhurst (Class AA) and a win over Sayville (Class A).

Coaches for Greenport and Pierson agreed that McGann-Mercy should have been allowed in the tournament.

“My heart goes out to the Mercy kids because that’s really who gets affected,” said Pierson coach Dan White. “I don’t know what the issue would be, money or whatever, but those kids should have gotten a chance.”

Stony Brook received a bye into the county final, so McGann-Mercy could have conceivably played a semifinal Tuesday night against the Bears.

“If they had been a No. 4, they probably could beat a No. 1 team,” said Greenport coach Al Edwards. “You never know what’s going on one particular night. I think there was probably some injustice done there.”

The maddening part for McGann-Mercy lies in the fact that there was a precedent to allow a Class C team from League VII into the tournament. It happened just last year with Port Jefferson. The Royals went 5-9 in league play last season and were granted the No. 3 seed in the playoffs as the final team to make it into the postseason.

Last season McGann-Mercy was a Class B school.

“Teams should have to win more than one game to win a championship,” Clauberg said. “Port Jeff deserves to be in, too.”

Clauberg said they received no explanation from Section XI as to why Port Jefferson was allowed in last year while McGann-Mercy was denied this year. The Royals also tried to get in this year and were denied as well, Clauberg said.

“No one understands it,” he said. “[Section XI] said we don’t use past precedent.”

At least two parents wrote letters to the Section XI executive director, Ed Cinelli, seeking an explanation. Those inquiries went unanswered as of Wednesday afternoon.

“We were shocked,” Clauberg said after finding out his team’s season was over. “How hard is it to let us play Stony Brook?”

joew@timesreview.com

With Bob Liepa