PHANTOMS 73, WILDCATS 60
The banners that hang in the gym at Shoreham-Wading River High School represent each sport in the school. Some banners, like for girls track, are stuffed with years showcasing the titles won.
For boys basketball, the banner lists just two years: 1990 and 1992, both league titles.
On Tuesday night, the Wildcats found themselves in a unique position to, at long last, add another year to that banner. Facing a Bayport-Blue Point team that came in 1/2 game ahead in the League VI standings, the Wildcats had the chance to earn at least a share of the league title with a victory in the final game of the regular season.
For more than three quarters, the Wildcats controlled the boards, consistently beat the Phantoms’ full-court trap, and appeared on their way to a historic victory.
And then it all unraveled.
A 14-0 run from the Phantoms erased an eight-point lead for Shoreham in the fourth quarter and the Wildcats never recovered. Bayport’s 73-60 victory lifted the Phantoms to 10-1 in the league with one game remaining. The Phantoms can win the league title outright with a victory over East Hampton, or possibly share it with East Hampton (8-2) if the Bonackers win their final two games.
“We’re not known as a basketball power,” said Shoreham coach Kevin Culhane. “It would have been really nice for our kids to be able to savor that just like the football team had a great year. It would have been nice to kind of follow suit.”
It was a crushing finish to the game, but not the end for Shoreham. The Wildcats closed out the regular season with a 9-3 league record and will now wait to see where they open the Class A playoffs after an upcoming week off.
The Wildcats lost both games in the season series against Bayport. The 13-point margin from Tuesday hardly represented the action for most of the game. Shoreham led nearly throughout until Bayport guard Timothy Darby sank a long two-pointer off an inbounds with 5:21 left to put the Phantoms ahead 56-55.
Shoreham had taken a 55-47 lead on a pair of free throws from senior Danny Hughes just over a minute earlier. The Wildcats went the final seven minutes of the game without a field goal. Over the final 6:49, the Phantoms closed the game on an astonishing 26-5 run.
“They got hot and we got cold at the same time,” Culhane said. “We missed a couple good opportunities and they buried a couple good opportunities.”
On Senior Night, the Wildcats got strong performances from all three seniors. Jonah Caldwell scored a game-high 23 points, Hughes added 14 and center Jack Zukowski scored 12.
Caldwell scored from all over court, proving to be a tough matchup for the smaller Phantoms.
“He’s an athletic kid,” said Bayport coach Charlie Peck. “He was banging shots from the outside I didn’t think he was capable of doing. He really got them going and was attacking the basket off the press.”
Caldwell sliced to the hoop on a baseline drive midway through the third quarter to put Shoreham ahead 40-31, matching the Wildcats’ largest lead of the game. The Phantoms answered right back with a 12-4 run to get back within one. Bayport senior Jack Alliegro drilled a pair of 3-pointers during that run, one from each corner, to propel the Phantoms.
The Phantoms are a team stacked with shooters. Peck said any of his five starters have the green light to shoot from deep. Bayport sank nine 3-pointers in the game on 36 percent shooting.
“I tried to pull as many things out of my hat, matchups and everything,” Culhane said. “We’re more of a defensive team and our strength is not shooting like other teams.”
The back-breaking shot came from Darby with 3:25 left. After Doug DeMaio hit two free throws for Shoreham to end Bayport’s 14-0 run, the Wildcats trailed by four. But on the next possession, Darby teed off a deep three from the left side and drilled it to push the Phantoms’ lead to seven.
“They hit shots and I think they got more confidence in them and us missing a few there,” Culhane said.
The Wildcats had two chances during the Phantoms’ initial run to score an easy bucket under the hoop and uncharacteristically missed both. A basket in either spot might have quelled the Phantoms’ momentum.
For as disappointing a finish the game was, the Wildcats still closed off one of the best regular seasons in a long time. Shoreham finished 14-4 overall and will enter the playoffs as a team to be reckoned with. Harborfields, the League V leader, will be the likely No. 1 seed for Class A.
Bayport’s coach admitted the Wildcats and Phantoms could meet again in the playoffs. It’s a scenario he’d rather avoid.
“I don’t want to play these guys again,” Peck said.