ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Michael Sheehan drives to the basket against Miller Place Tuesday.
PANTHERS 53, WILDCATS 45
In a league that features one of the top teams in the county in Amityville, as well as tough teams like Bayport-Blue Point and John Glenn, squeezing out enough wins to reach .500 and qualify for the postseason is no easy task.
“I always tell people, just because it’s League VI, people don’t realize how good this league is,” said Shoreham coach Kevin Culhane.
That’s what made Tuesday’s matchup at Miller Place a critical game, even though the season is still young. The Wildcats and Panthers are both teams in the middle of the pack of League VI. When the season ends, the teams could very well be neck-and-neck for a final spot in the playoffs.
The Wildcats entered with the upper hand, with two league wins already in hand. But the Panthers snapped a three-game winning streak for Shoreham, taking down the Wildcats 53-45 at Miller Place High School.
In their first game of the new year, the Wildcats’ hot shooting that had propelled them in their previous wins dissipated early against Miller Place. The Panthers raced out to a 12-3 first-quarter lead as the Wildcats dug themselves a double-digit deficit before some shots started to finally fall.
“We’ve been shooting the ball very well lately,” Culhane said. “Today we didn’t. Give Miller Place credit. There were a lot of things we didn’t do, executing wise.”
Early foul trouble forced Culhane to go to his bench early in the first quarter. And the Wildcats shot a ghastly 1-for-13 in the opening quarter.
“I was afraid of keeping the starters in and getting the third foul,” Culhane said. “That really hurt us early on.”
Miller Place center Alex Frusco created havoc for Shoreham in the paint and on the boards. Frusco finished with a game-high 18 points.
Culhane said he knew Frusco was capable of a big night.
“I thought a few times when we had to go small, he had a couple rebounds and put-backs,” he said. “I think that’s what kind of hurt us.”
The Wildcats (5-4, 2-3 League VI) trailed by as many as 14 late in the second quarter. Twice the Wildcats got their deficit down to six, but each time the Panthers (3-4, 2-2 League VI) responded with a run of their own. A basket by Daniel Hughes (10 points) and two free throws from Sean Condron trimmed Miller Place’s lead to 39-33 early in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats were starting to find the range after connecting on three treys in the previous quarter.
But the Panthers withstood the surge and ran off eight straight points to extend their lead back to double digits.
“I thought we fought back really hard and competed down to the end,” Culhane said.
Miller Place got 17 points from Liam Walsh off the bench. Senior Zach Makoske led Shoreham in scoring with 11 points. Michael Sheehan added six and Condron had five.