Shoreham-Wading River is a good high school boys basketball team regardless, but there’s no question the Wildcats are a different team when Tristan Costello is on the court.
Costello said he had missed several games while quarantining for 10 days for a COVID-19 close contact. He didn’t test positive and had no symptoms, but it was tough, nonetheless, for him to have to watch his teammates play via livestream.
Now, since Costello rejoined the team, he has been making things tough for opponents.
The 6-foot-2 senior wing made his return to action Wednesday in SWR’s final regular-season game, a 67-62 win over Wyandanch that clinched a second straight playoff berth for the Wildcats. In his second game back on Saturday, Costello helped SWR to a 64-54 Suffolk County Conference IV semifinal victory at Mattituck High School.
“He had his best game of the year, by far,” coach Kevin Culhane said. “Just defense, rebounding and he hit a couple of big shots down the stretch. He’s a terrific player and thank God we got him back. I say that all the time. He’s glad; I’m probably as glad as he is.”
The seventh straight win advances SWR (7-1) to a conference final Sunday at Center Moriches, the team responsible for SWR’s season-opening loss.
“I was so eager to get back,” Costello said. “I missed my guys and my senior year.”
Costello did his part, leading SWR on the offensive end with 17 points to go with 10 rebounds. Joey Dwyer had a tremendous game as well with 14 points and 13 rebounds while Tom Bell had 12 points and six assists.
Culhane remembers when Costello was a little-used benchwarmer early in his freshman season who gradually got better and earned more playing time.
Costello offers versatility and can be used in different lineups. “I can play him as a big and I can also play him as a wing, which we do,” Culhane said. “Today I wanted him in because he was just killing them in the middle of the zone. They couldn’t stop him.”
League VIII champion Mattituck (7-1), just three days off a team quarantine, couldn’t stop SWR, period. The Tuckers had beaten Port Jefferson in their final regular-season game Thursday to nab a playoff spot. (The top two teams in each of Suffolk’s eight leagues reached the postseason). But SWR brought size, physicality and ran out to a 17-8 lead through the first quarter, capped by Dwyer’s top-0f-the-key three.
That lead was pushed to 30-14 on an 11-0 burst completed by consecutive Aiden Clifford layups. The 16-point margin was the largest of the game.
“Hey, you just tip your hat to those kids,” Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood said. “They made plays. We made them make plays. My kids played a great game. They were just a little better tonight.”
Mattituck never caught up to SWR, but twice pulled within two points early in the third quarter on a left-wing three by Weston Reardon and a Sean Lawson layup.
SWR’s response to those baskets included a turnaround jumper by Costello and a shot by Costello while falling backwards(!) that fell through the net.
Luke Woods turned in a courageous game for Mattituck, scoring 24 points. Two Woods free throws capped a 9-0 spell, trimming SWR’s lead to 56-53 with 4 minutes, 5 seconds left in the fourth quarter. “We played the best we could,” said Woods.
Then Costello buried a three-pointer and SWR closed the game out.
“To be honest, I think that we had a great, spectacular season,” said Rashad Lawson, who totaled 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting and 15 rebounds in his final game for Mattituck. “Under the conditions and restrictions we were under, I believe we made the most out of it and I can’t complain.”
Ellwood said: “Rashad today, he was a beast, an animal. He did everything he could to try to help us win the game. What an incredible effort, I thought.”
Mattituck also received 11 rebounds from Matt Seifert. But the Tuckers shot 3-for-16 from beyond the arc and had 18 turnovers, twice as many as SWR.
And then, of course, there was the impact of Costello, who wants to make the most out of this brief season.
He said, “It went by in the blink of an eye.”