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.
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.