WILDCATS 47, WARRIORS 45
As Amityville guard Rae Toppin caught a pass on the baseline, with the court seemingly all to himself, everyone inside the Shoreham-Wading River High School gym would have had the same thought: here comes overtime.
With his team trailing by two in the waning seconds of Tuesday’s game, Toppin found himself wide open under the basket. But he went up too strong, and somehow, his layup attempt missed and the ball fell safely into the hands of Shoreham forward Danny Hughes, who dribbled out the final two seconds in a 47-45 Wildcats win.
The Wildcats, who led by as many as 10, escaped with a crucial win to snap a two-game losing streak and clinch a spot in the postseason for the first time in three seasons.
“They overloaded the right side,” Hughes said of the final play. “I didn’t pick up on it. None of us did. I see a kid throw a pass and I had no idea where it was going. I turn around and the kid’s got the ball going up for a layup. I’m starting to prepare myself for overtime.”
It never got that far, as the Wildcats dodged a bullet.
Shoreham ended the game on a 7-0 run after Amityville took its biggest lead of the game, 45-40, when senior Mike Smith buried a deep 3-pointer from the left side.
But the Wildcats held Amityville scoreless the final 3:34. It was the second win of the season for Shoreham against Amityville, a rare accomplishment in the team’s history.
Shoreham coach Kevin Culhane said in his eight years, the Wildcats never defeated the Warriors twice in a season.
“That was a great gut win,” said Culhane, who recently picked up his 200th career win as a coach.
Amityville won the Class A county title last year, only to have the title stripped afterward due to an ineligible player. Then in October, longtime coach Jack Agostino was not rehired.
For Shoreham, Tuesday’s win was a much-needed boost. The Wildcats had won 10 straight before losing the last two against Bayport-Blue Point and East Hampton. They weren’t looking to see that skid extend to three.
“We knew we had to get this one,” said Hughes, who scored a game-high 23 points.
The Wildcats struggled offensively in the second half when Amityville switched from a zone defense to man-to-man. The pressure forced Shoreham into more turnovers and made it harder to get good looks. After a 31-point first half, the Wildcats had only nine in the second with just over two minutes remaining.
A transition basket from center Jack Zukowski got the Wildcats rolling with 2:21 left. Hughes went one of two from the line with 1:42 left to get the Wildcats back within two. He missed the second, but Zukowski hustled to the miss and saved it from going out of bounds to teammate Jonah Caldwell (11 points). Doug DeMaio was fouled a few seconds later, and the junior calmly sank a pair of free throws to tie the game.
“That gave us some life,” Culhane said.
Hughes put the team ahead on a free throw with 1:14 left, and then sank another with :15.3 left for the final margin.
The Warriors had a good chance to tie the game in the final minute. Smith threw a pass to Toppin under the basket. Toppin went up for the shot and was rejected by Caldwell, who swatted the ball out of bounds. On the ensuing inbounds, freshman Joshua Serrano put up a long 3-pointer that missed.
The Wildcats improved to 11-3 overall while the Warriors fell to 6-5. At 4-4 in League VI, Amityville will be fighting for a playoff spot.