CLASS A FIRST ROUND | GOLDEN FLASHES 53, WILDCATS 51
In the two weeks his team was off since the regular season ended, Shoreham-Wading River coach Kevin Culhane did his best to keep the players loose before Tuesday night’s Class A playoff opener. On Saturday, the Wildcats played crisp in a scrimmage against Bellport, a playoff-bound Class AA team.
All signs indicated the Wildcats were ready.
But when the ball tipped late Tuesday, in front of a large crowd at Shoreham-Wading River High School, nothing seemed to go right at first. Turnovers, missed shots and strong shooting from the visiting Sayville Golden Flashes buried the fourth-seeded Wildcats into a 16-5 hole.
“The first couple minutes in the first half just killed us,” said Shoreham coach Kevin Culhane.
It took two more quarters before the Wildcats finally injected some life into the game. Sparked by a brilliant fourth quarter from senior Jonah Caldwell, the Wildcats clawed back from a double-digit deficit to make it a four-point game midway through the fourth.
It was a dominant quarter for the Wildcats, but one that came up just short. The Wildcats never got closer than three until Jason Curran put back an offensive rebound with two seconds left on the clock. The buzzer sounded before the Golden Flashes even had to inbound and No. 5 Sayville escaped with a 53-51 victory to advance to play top-seeded Bayport-Blue Point in the semifinals.
“I’m very proud of this team,” Culhane said. “Since I’ve been here it’s the best record we’ve had, 14-5. Just a great accomplishment.”
Caldwell scored 13 of his team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats trailed by 13, equaling their largest deficit, with 5:43 left in the game when Caldwell converted a conventional three-point play. It sparked a 9-0 run that had the Wildcats fans roaring as Shoreham sliced its deficit to four. Caldwell laid the ball in from a pass by Doug DeMaio after Sayville turned it over to make it a 46-42 game.
The Wildcats held the Golden Flashes without a field goal the final 3:22, but Sayville kept Shoreham at bay by knocking down free throws. The Golden Flashes shot 18 of 25 (72 percent) for the game from the line; the Wildcats were 6 of 15 (40 percent).
“Shooting’s been our bugaboo all year,” Culhane said.
The Wildcats closed the gap to a single possession game with :30.9 left when Curran went up for a basket down low and was fouled. He knocked down the free throw to cut Sayville’s lead to 52-49.
Shoreham tried to press and force a turnover, but ultimately fouled Sayville’s top player, Hunter Schenkel. He sank one of two free throws to give him a game-high 22 points.
Schenkel was near perfect from the line, shooting 13 of 15 for the game.
The Wildcats tried a 3-pointer in the final possession, but Danny Hughes’ shot missed. DeMaio grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He missed both, but the Wildcats maintained possession, leading to Curran’s putback with two seconds left. The Wildcats were out of timeouts and couldn’t stop the clock to force Sayville to inbound.
“I always try to keep my timeouts for late,” Culhane said. “I really had to start using them early in the fourth just to slow the game down.”
The Wildcats shot a sizzling 11 of 19 in the fourth quarter (58 percent), but the hole proved too big to climb out of.
Hughes, one of three seniors on Shoreham, was the only other Wildcat in double figures. He finished with 14. Senior Jack Zukowski was quiet in his final game for Shoreham. Culhane went with a smaller lineup late in the game to try to get the team back into it.
“I went to a quicker lineup and that kind of helped us,” Culhane said.
The Wildcats were on the receiving end of a questionable technical foul early in the fourth quarter. Two players bumped into each other going out of bounds. The referee quickly called a technical on Shoreham. Schenkel got a pair of free throws and sank them both. At the time, Sayville led by 11. But in the end, the two points proved monumental.
Culhane said he didn’t see the play that led to the technical.
While the Wildcats couldn’t look past Sayville, Culhane admitted his team would have loved another chance to play Bayport. The Wildcats lost twice to the Phantoms in the regular season, including the last game of the regular season with a chance to clinch a share of the league title on the line.
“The two games against Bayport, they played extremely well to beat us,” Culhane said.