BOYS BASKETBALL: Shelter Island wins season-opener

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Kyle Johnson's 12 points helped Shelter Island to a comeback victory in its season-opener against Bishop McGann-Mercy.

Perhaps it was the beginning of a break with the less desirable part of the Shelter Island Indians’ boys basketball history. For a program that has seen its share of losses and struggles, Shelter Island’s entry into the 2010-11 season on Saturday was something the Indians could feel good about.

Not that the first quarter was a feel-good story for Shelter Island. The Indians made only 3 of 12 field-goal attempts and found themselves on the wrong end of a 16-9 score against the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs in Riverhead. Things got worse for Shelter Island before they got better. The trailed by as many as 14 points early in the third quarter.

That is when Shelter Island teams of years past may have folded, but not this season’s squad. Instead, the Indians showed resilience, fought to the end, and earned themselves a 58-54 non-league victory.

How’s that for a way to start a season?

“This was a great start forward for our season,” said Kyle Johnson, one of Shelter Island’s four starting seniors.

Shelter Island took its first lead since 1-0 when John McEnroe made a putback off his own miss for a 45-44 lead with 3 minutes 39 seconds left in the game. McGann-Mercy regained the lead three times after that, but stubborn Shelter Island bounced back each time.

“I was pretty confident that we were going to win for three and a half quarters of the game,” McGann-Mercy guard Pat Stepnoski said. “Then they hit that shot and went up by one. That was a bit of a reality check.”

After Stepnoski sank a pair of free throws to close Shelter Island’s lead to 56-54 with 7.7 seconds left to play, James Read of Shelter Island threw a three-quarter-court inbounds pass to Matt Belt-Cappellino, whose layup with 3.9 seconds to go sealed the result.

“They kept their composure and they didn’t fold, which is huge,” said Shelter Island Coach Michael Mundy.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Christian Lynch of Bishop McGann-Mercy went up for a layup.

The loss was a bitter one for the Monarchs, who saw a win slip from their grasp as they suffered their third loss in four games.

“This was a downer today,” McGann-Mercy’s unhappy coach, Mike Clauberg, said following a lengthy postgame meeting with his team. “Shelter Island just outhustled us, outworked us, scored at will on our defense. We just kind of gave up defensively. I give credit to Shelter Island. They worked really hard.”

Johnson scored five of Shelter Island’s final nine points. He finished with 12 points, as did teammate Chris Napolitano. McEnroe added 11 points and Read grabbed 10 rebounds.

Shelter Island persevered despite the fact that two of its players, brothers Aaron Johnson and Kyle Johnson, fouled out in the fourth quarter.

Shooting was a problem for Shelter Island last season when the team went 5-12. The Indians had trouble putting points on the scoreboard. But that may have changed. Following a rough first quarter on Saturday, Shelter Island shot 62 percent from the field. Better shot selection helped.

“We need to practice on the foul shots, though,” said Kyle Johnson, referring to his team’s poor 12-for-31 performance at the free-throw line.

But McGann-Mercy had its issues as well. Rough free-throw shooting (14 of 23) and 32 turnovers were the killers. During one stretch late in the game, McGann-Mercy made only 3 of 8 free throws.

“We had a chance to win the game,” Clauberg said. “We had free throws at the end of the game.”

McGann-Mercy received 19 points and five assists from Joe Crosser. Stepnoski played with a sinus infection and still recorded a double-double with 10 points and 19 rebounds. Justin Vasquez contributed 10 points.

But one of McGann-Mercy’s best rebounders, Danny Hartmann, got into early foul trouble, played sparingly, and fouled out with 40.1 seconds remaining. He ended up with four points and one rebound.

“I was very disappointed in how our kids reacted,” Clauberg said. “We didn’t go with the game plan and did a lot of things lackadaisical today.”

“We weren’t pump faking, guys weren’t coming to the ball,” he continued. “They were turnovers that shouldn’t have happened. It wasn’t like [Shelter Island] created turnovers. I felt like it was more just mistakes on our part.”

[email protected]