02/14/13 7:00pm
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

02/11/13 7:00pm
02/11/2013 7:00 PM

The major snowstorm that wrecked havoc with high school sports schedules in Suffolk County has delayed the completion of the boys and girls basketball regular seasons. All that snow, however, didn’t prevent Section XI from going about the business of preparing for the playoffs for those sports. Section XI, the governing body for interscholastic sports in Suffolk, released the boys and girls basketball playoff brackets on Monday.

As expected, Riverhead’s boys team earned a rare home playoff game. The Blue Waves (15-3), received the No. 5 seed in the Suffolk Class AA Tournament and will host No. 12 Longwood (11-6) of League I in a first-round contest on Friday. Riverhead, which last week captured the League III championship, will carry a six-game win streak into the postseason. In the only meeting between the two teams during the regular-season, however, Longwood beat Riverhead, 60-41, in a non-league game on Dec. 8.

The Greenport boys (10-7), who have one regular-season game remaining, will play a familiar opponent in a Suffolk Class C outbracket game Tuesday: Pierson (11-7). The winner of that game will advance to a county final against the top-seeded League VIII champion, Stony Brook (14-3), on Wednesday. Greenport and Pierson split the two regular-season games they played against each other.

Bishop McGann-Mercy (8-10) and Shoreham-Wading River (9-9) failed to qualify for the playoffs.

In girls basketball, No. 7 Riverhead (11-7) will host No. 10 Half Hollow Hills East (11-6) in a Suffolk Class AA first-round matchup on Thursday. While the Blue Waves have dropped their last two games, Hills East had won three of its last four.

Shoreham-Wading River (14-4) not only won its first league championship in 11 years last Thursday when it defeated Elwood/John Glenn in a double-overtime thriller, but it also secured the No. 2 seed in the Suffolk Class A Tournament. The Wildcats will play in a semifinal at home next Tuesday against the winner of Friday’s outbracket game between No. 3 Elwood/John Glenn (16-2) and No. 6 Sayville (11-7).

If No. 3 Mattituck (11-7) is to win a Suffolk Class B title, it will have to get past No. 2 Center Moriches (11-4), something the Tuckers weren’t able to do during the regular season. The two League VII teams will play in a Suffolk Class B outbracket game on Friday night in Center Moriches. The Red Devils defeated Mattituck by 8 and 20 points during the regular season. The reward for the winner of Friday night’s game will be a place in next Tuesday night’s county Class B final against Southampton (14-3), the League VII champion.

No. 3 Southold (9-6) will face No. 2 Port Jefferson (10-7) in a Suffolk Class C semifinal on Wednesday. Those teams beat each other once earlier this season.

02/07/13 9:47pm
02/07/2013 9:47 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead senior Markim Austin cuts off a piece of the net after Thursday’s win over North Babylon as the Blue Waves finished in sole possession of the League III title.

BLUE WAVES 72, BULLDOGS 61

The buzz that filled Riverhead’s gym during Tuesday’s thrilling victory had faded by the time the Blue Waves returned to the court Thursday night. Still, business remained.

With a chance to the end the regular season as the undisputed League III champs, the Blue Waves punctuated their league title with a wire-to-wire victory over North Babylon, 72-61. The victory assured the Blue Waves (12-2) of finishing one game ahead Smithtown West, the team they knocked off in Tuesday’s showdown. The Bulls won Thursday against East Islip to finish 11-3 in league.

While the win over Smithtown guaranteed the Blue Waves a share of the league title, they held off on fully embracing the accomplishment. When the buzzer sounded on Thursday’s win, out came the ladder to signal the start of the net-cutting ceremony.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead senior Ryan Bitzer connected on four 3-pointers.

One by one players took their turn climbing toward the rim and cutting a piece of the net.

“Obviously over the course of the season we’ve proven that we’re a pretty good ball club,” said Riverhead coach John Rossetti. “And on our home turf we want to let people know we’re a tough out.”

The Blue Waves (15-3 overall) proved that with a relatively easy win against a team that defeated them in mid-January. The Blue Waves led by as many as 19 and the game was never much in jeopardy in the second half.

The trio of senior Markim Austin, Ryan Bitzer and junior Brandon Tolliver combined for 57 of Riverhead’s points. Austin led the team with 21 while Bitzer chipped in 19 and Tolliver 17.

With the regular season now behind them, the Blue Waves will wait until Monday afternoon to find out their playoff fate. As a league champion, the Blue Waves should be guaranteed a home playoff game as a top-eight seed in Class AA. A top-four seed would open the door for two home playoff games before the tournament switches to a neutral site.

Riverhead will open the playoffs Feb. 15.

The Blue Waves got off to a quick start against the Bulldogs (11-7, 9-5 League III) and stretched the lead to double figures with a 12-3 run in the second quarter.

“You want to get on a good team early,” Rossetti said. “And hopefully you carry that momentum and it propelled us throughout the game.”

The game got off to a somewhat slow start as the two typically fast-paced, run-and-gun teams opened in zone defenses. It seemed to take both teams some time to adjust.

Rossetti said slowing the game down was part of their strategy.

“I think that threw them for a loop,” Rossetti said of the zone defense. “We realized they’re a little quicker than us. So what we decided to do was slow the game down.”

The pace eventually quickened and both teams were able to get out in transition.

The Blue Waves eclipsed 70 points for the fifth time in their last six games.

When the Blue Waves played in North Babylon Jan. 15 they scored only 44 points. In that game, the Bulldogs’ 3-2 zone defense clamped down on Riverhead’s outside shooters. But the Blue Waves were ready this time around.

Bitzer got going early with a couple 3-pointers in the first quarter. He finished with four on the night, including one early in the fourth quarter that put the Blue Waves ahead 53-34.

“We put a couple of wrinkles in and I think those wrinkles were effective,” Rossetti said.

Nelshawn McPherson was a beast down low for North Babylon and he led all scorers with 23 points. The Blue Waves struggled to match up against him in the paint and McPherson converted on second-chance opportunities.

“He’s a solid kid down low,” Rossetti said.

Cortland Speight added 18 points for North Babylon.

Riverhead honored its four seniors before the game. Ryan Schroeher joined Quinn Funn, Bitzer and Austin in the starting lineup. The Blue Waves will take the weekend off before returning to the gym Monday to prepare for the postseason.

“Preparation is key and you get some kids who played heavy minutes a couple days off to get their legs back,” Rossetti said.

joew@timesreview.com

02/06/13 8:00am
02/06/2013 8:00 AM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO  |  Riverhead junior Jeremiah Cheatom rises for a short jumper.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead junior Jeremiah Cheatom rises for a short jumper.

The Riverhead boys basketball team won 72-71 Tuesday night at home against Smithtown West. The Blue Waves clinched at least  a share of the League III title, their first championship since 1973. The Blue Waves host North Babylon Thursday for a chance to win the league title outright.

Click here for a recap.

02/05/13 9:57pm
02/05/2013 9:57 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO  |  Riverhead senior Markim Austin rises for one-handed dunk Tuesday that put the Blue Waves ahead by seven in the fourth quarter against Smithtown West.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead senior Markim Austin rises for one-handed dunk Tuesday that put the Blue Waves ahead by seven in the fourth quarter against Smithtown West.

BLUE WAVES 72, BULLS 71

Amid the euphoria of a jubilant Riverhead locker room Tuesday night, coach John Rossetti delivered a simple message to his players.

The job isn’t done yet.

They’ll hang a banner inside the Riverhead High School gym — the Blue Waves made sure of that with a frantic 72-71 victory over Smithtown West — but one more game remains to make it stand alone.

Riverhead clinched at least a share of the League III title with Tuesday’s come-from-behind victory, the first championship since 1997 and first ever as a Class AA school. The Blue Waves, who swept the season series against the Bulls, can clinch the outright league title with a win Thursday at home against North Babylon in the final game of the regular season.

“We’re league champs regardless, but we want to finish this strong,” Rossetti said.

The playoffs may not start for another week, but this game had every bit a playoff atmosphere as both teams came in knowing the league title was on the line. The Blue Waves and Bulls entered with identical 10-2 league records. The winner controlled its own destiny for the league title and both teams played like everything was on the line in a fast-paced, up-and-down game that ultimately came down to the final play of the game.

Related: Click here for more photos

The Blue Waves (14-3, 11-2) overcame giving up a season-high in points and twice fouling a 3-point shooter in the final 40.5 seconds of the game.

“Heart and desire,” said Riverhead senior Ryan Bitzer, who hit a pair clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. “We wanted it so bad. Sixteen years since the last league championship and we really wanted it.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO  |  Riverhead senior Ryan Bitzer scored 14 points Tuesday.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead senior Ryan Bitzer scored 14 points Tuesday.

A fired-up crowd created an electric atmosphere and senior Markim Austin sent the fans into a frenzy when he threw down a one-handed slam on a fastbreak to give the Blue Waves their largest lead of the game at 68-61 midway through the fourth quarter. “I’ve been trying to get a dunk all season, now I finally got it,” Austin said. The dunk came on the heels of a Bitzer 3-pointer and capped a 19-point turnaround from early in the third quarter.

But the Bulls refused to go quietly.

A couple ill-advised fouls allowed the Bulls (13-4, 10-3) to chip away at Riverhead’s lead and a fastbreak layup off a steal from Michael Bairdi pulled the Bulls to within a point with 2:36 left. The Blue Waves answered right back with a fastbreak layin from Quinn Funn, who was fouled on the play but missed the free throw.

[Video: See the final 11 seconds of the game below]

It ultimately set the stage for a bizarre final 40 seconds with Riverhead clinging to a three-point lead.

Smithtown West guard Ryan Hickey — a superb outside shooter who scored 23 points — was fouled on a 3-pointer and had a chance to tie the game. But he missed all three shots. Austin was fouled on the ensuing Riverhead possession and hit both free throws of a one-and-one.

Back came Hickey, hitting a 3-pointer plus a foul again. This time he made the free throw to trim Riverhead’s lead back to one.

Bitzer said the Blue Waves had fouls to give, so they were trying to be aggressive on defense.

“I thought I fouled him before he shot it,” Bitzer said. “But I guess not. We’re just happy to get the win.”

The Bulls still had life after Bitzer missed the front end of a one-and-one with :24.1 left. William Behrens corralled an offensive rebound for Smithtown with :15.6 left and was fouled going up for a shot. He had two free throws with a chance to give the Bulls a lead but missed them both. The Bulls controlled the rebound and called timeout.

The Blue Waves knew where the ball was going.

“We knew Hickey was going to take the shot so we had to double up and pick him up,” Bitzer said.

The Bulls inbounded into the backcourt to Hickey, who got a running start across halfcourt. He curled right of a high screen from Eric Joseph where he faced a double team as Jeremiah Cheatom swarmed him alongside Bitzer. He managed to elude Cheatom before Austin swooped in front to a draw a charge.

Austin heard the whistle blow and “just looked at the ref hoping it was a charge,” he said.

The Blue Waves got the ball with :2.7 left and Bitzer threw a long outlet pass to junior Brandon Tolliver, who caught the ball and held it as the clock ran out.

“It felt like six minutes,” Rossetti said of the final 40 seconds. “That’s high school basketball at its best.”

The Blue Waves had four players in double figures, led by 20 from Austin. Bitzer had 14 while Cheatom and Tolliver added 13.

Riverhead trailed by 10 at halftime and needed another big third quarter to get back into it. That wasn’t a problem as the Blue Waves outscored Smithtown by eight in the quarter.

It was the 11th straight game Riverhead outscored its opponent in the third quarter. Only two teams have outscored the Blue Waves in the third quarter and those games were both in early December.

“That’s been one our team goals all season,” Rossetti said. “We call it a lockdown third.”

In the past 11 games the Blue Waves are +7.6 in the third quarter, by far their most efficient quarter.

“That’s just our mojo, I guess,” Bitzer said.

joew@timesreview.com

The final 11 seconds, with Riverhead ahead 72-71:

02/05/13 8:45am
DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Riverhead senior Quinn Funn is hacked on the arm as he goes up for a shot last week against Centereach.

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Riverhead senior Quinn Funn is hacked on the arm as he goes up for a shot last week against Centereach.

When the Riverhead boys basketball team lost to North Babylon in mid-January — putting the teams in a tie for first at the midway point of the league season — it appeared the League III title might come down to the final game of the season when the teams would meet again.

As it turns out, it’ll be the penultimate game of the regular season that will have the biggest determining factor on the league title.

The Blue Waves, winners of four straight, will host Smithtown West at 5:45 p.m. tonight at Riverhead High School. Both teams are 10-2 in league and the winner of tonight’s game will be guaranteed at least a share of the league title. Smithtown West closes out the season Thursday against East Islip (10-6).

North Babylon, after the big win over previously unbeaten Riverhead Jan. 15, lost three of its next five games to slip to 8-4 and fall out of contention for the league title.

The Blue Waves won 59-55 against Smithtown West Jan. 10 on the road. The Blue Waves had four players in double figures that night, led by 17 from Markim Austin. The Blue Waves needed a big second half to come back from a eight-point halftime deficit.

Be sure to check back tonight for a full recap of tonight’s game.

joew@timesreview.com

01/29/13 9:31pm
01/29/2013 9:31 PM
DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Riverhead senior Quinn Funn is hacked on the arm as he goes up for a shot Tuesday against Centereach. Funn scored 14 points in the victory.

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Riverhead senior Quinn Funn is hacked on the arm as he goes up for a shot Tuesday against Centereach. Funn scored 14 points in the victory.

BLUE WAVES 60, COUGARS 55

When the playoff seedings in boys basketball are unveiled in two weeks, the Riverhead Blue Waves may very well look back at Tuesday’s victory over Centereach and breathe a collective sigh of relief.

The Cougars entered the game seventh in League III, a long way away from the top spot shared between the Blue Waves and Smithtown West. Still, the Blue Waves needed to fight and claw their way back from an eight-point second half deficit to finally put away the Cougars 60-55 at Riverhead High School to remain tied for first.

“Throughout the season you’re always going to have these games that you look back on and you say, ‘Maybe if we didn’t get that one, we wouldn’t be here right now,’ ” said Riverhead coach John Rossetti.

With the number of quality teams spread across Leagues I, II and IV, there might only be one team from League III to crack the top eight seeds and earn a home playoff game for the first round.

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO  |  Riverhead junior Brandon Tolliver scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter.

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Riverhead junior Brandon Tolliver scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter.

With three games left in the regular season — including two huge ones against Smithtown West and North Babylon — the Blue Waves know they have little room for error.

The Blue Waves beat Centereach (4-11, 2-9 League III) by 21 in their first meeting Jan. 3, but it took a huge fourth quarter to pull out a victory this time. The Blue Waves (12-3, 9-2 League III) trailed from early in the second quarter straight through the fourth before finally breaking through when Quinn Funn found a cutting Markim Austin along the baseline for a bucket with 3:09 left in the fourth.

Funn’s bucket gave the Blue Waves a 52-51 lead after they had trailed for the previous 20 minutes.

It was an up-hill climb the whole way, or as Rossetti put it: “Up mountain.”

The Blue Waves were without Jeremiah Cheatom and his rebounding presence down low was sorely missed. Cheatom did not dress for the game and Rossetti declined to specify the reason for his absence. Cheatom’s fate for Thursday’s game has already been decided, but Rossetti declined to say whether he would be in the lineup.

Senior Kwuan Arrington started in place of Cheatom and got off to a quick start with two baskets to open the game. The Blue Waves mixed in a number of players off the bench and the different lineups helped factor into a bevy of turnovers for Riverhead. The Blue Waves coughed the ball up 13 times alone in the second half.

“Everybody had to pull together,” said junior Brandon Tolliver. “Everybody had to help out on the boards. We knew it was going to be rough getting the offensive boards.”

Tolliver, quiet for most of the night, came up huge down the stretch with 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter.

Tolliver scored on a fastbreak off an assist from Funn with 2:14 left to push the Blue Waves’ lead to five at 56-51. It capped a 14-2 run and gave the Blue Waves their biggest lead since the opening quarter.

“I just tried to crash the offensive boards and get every rebound I could and always be ready to get the ball when needed,” Tolliver said.

Funn was instrumental in running the offense down the stretch. Rossetti opted to give Funn more of the point guard responsibilities to take some of the pressure off Ryan Bitzer and allow to him to work off the ball.

Funn delivered by cutting through the defense and finding open players.

“He plays hard every game,” Tolliver said. “It turns out we always need him in the end.”

Funn was playing with a heavy heart after the death of Demitri Hampton early Sunday morning. Hampton, a 2010 graduate who played basketball at Riverhead, was friends with Funn, Rossetti said.

Before the game Funn asked Rossetti if there would be a moment of silence in memory of Hampton, which the school did hold.

“I think what Quinn did tonight was a little bit in honor and respect for Demitri’s efforts when he played for us,” Rossetti said. “Demitri was a very gritty, grindy, workhorse type player kind of like Quinn is.”

Funn finished with a season-high 14 points and 5 assists for Riverhead. Austin led all scorers with 17. Freshman Malik Washington chipped in 12 points off the bench.

Riverhead had to overcome a dreadful shooting performance from outside. The Blue Waves shot 1-of-17 from beyond the arc.

In the fourth quarter they only attempted two threes and instead focused on getting to the basket.

“That’s usually what happens when we can’t shoot that well,” Tolliver said. “We try to go the basket, get fouls so we can go to the line.”

Tolliver threw down a two-handed dunk with 1:32 left to help ice the game.

“It felt good,” Tolliver said.

So to did the victory.

joew@timesreview.com

01/18/13 9:13pm
01/18/2013 9:13 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 scored a team-high 16 points Friday night.

TUCKERS 60, MONARCHS 51

Mattituck held off a second half rally in front of a boisterous crowd at McGann-Mercy High School Friday night to pick up its second win of the season, 60-51.

The Tuckers led by as many as 15 in the first half before the Monarchs began to stage a comeback in the third quarter — just as they did the first time the teams met in Mattituck. Only this time, the Monarchs could never get over the hump, getting as close as within two in the fourth quarter.

Mercy junior Kurt Bahnke hit a free throw with 5:50 left to bring the Monarchs with two at 44-42. But a crucial technical foul call against Mercy on the ensuing possession after Mattituck sophomore Will Gildersleeve got fouled gave the Tuckers four free throws. Gildersleeve only hit two, but the Tuckers got a huge 3-pointer from freshman Joe Tardif (1o points) afterward to push the lead back to seven.

Gildersleeve led the Tuckers with 11 points.

Mercy got a game-high 16 from junior Nykel Reese.

Mercy’s only lead of the game was 6-5 in the opening minutes.

The Tuckers’ defensive game plan centered around slowing down Mercy guard Asaiah Wilson. With a man draped on him the entire game, the remaining Mattituck defenders sat back in a zone and were able to keep Reese from dominating down low.

Wilson was limited to five points.

Turnovers plagued the Monarchs all game. They finished with 23, which fueled the Tuckers’ transition game.

Mattituck improved to 2-10 overall and 2-6 in League VII. The loss dropped Mercy to 6-6 and 3-5 in league.

joew@timesreview.com