The room for error that three weeks ago appeared a bountiful cushion had dwindled down to this: win or go home.
On Jan. 19, the Riverhead boys basketball team left Newfield High School with a 58-42 win, clinching the Blue Waves’ sixth League III victory. Six games remained on the schedule with only one more win needed to secure the team’s first postseason berth since the 2012-13 season.
The next five games all ended in losses, three of them by single digits.
“You talk to the kids, ‘OK, one of the next four, one of the next three, one of the next two,’ ” said Riverhead coach John Rossetti, finally leading into Tuesday afternoon. “OK, guys, we got to win the next one.”
With their season on the line, the Blue Waves found an ideal opponent waiting at Riverhead High School: the winless West Islip Lions.
On Senior Night, the Blue Waves closed out the regular season in style, rolling past the Lions 72-41 to officially lock up a spot in the Section XI Tournament that is scheduled to begin Thursday.
The Blue Waves will find out tomorrow who their opponent will be. With a 7-7 League III record and 8-10 overall, the Blue Waves would appear to be destined for an outbracket game as one of the lower seeds in the Class AA bracket.
For the team’s six seniors, Tuesday was a day to celebrate and reflect.
Forward Tyrese Kerr, who scored 15 points against the Lions, was a freshman on the last Riverhead playoff team when the Blue Waves won the league championship.
“We fell a game short last year making the playoffs,” Kerr said. “This year we knew this was our chance to make it.”
With 3 minutes 8 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Rossetti pulled several of the team’s seniors off the court to a resounding ovation. Kerr took a seat along with fellow seniors Malik Washington and Steven Asconia. It was a chance to smile and soak in a moment that had been a long time coming.
Senior Sharron Trent also scored 15 points in the victory for Riverhead. Washington scored all five of his points in the first quarter and Asconia added 10. Senior Lintell Brown scored 8 points.
“It’s an accomplishment to get in the playoffs,” Rossetti said. “Some teams take it for granted. Our league is very balanced. We have six teams in our league making the playoffs.”
Smithtown West won the league and in addition to Riverhead, Smithtown East, North Babylon, Centereach and Huntington all earned a playoff spot.
It’s been an up-and-down year for the Blue Waves from the start. They had winning streaks of four and three coupled with a pair of five-game losing streaks.
“We’ve had peaks and valleys,” Rossetti said. “We know what we have, we know what we’re good at, we know what we’re bad at. When we come out and play with this kind of energy and intensity, we’re going to be tough.”
Now Thursday marks a clean slate.
“Maybe our overall record doesn’t show it, but I don’t think there’s any team in the county saying ‘Oh, we want to play Riverhead next,’ ” Rossetti said.
Photo Caption: Riverhead senior Sharron Trent is interviewed by WRIV’s Pat Kelly following the Blue Waves’ win Tuesday. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)