Shoreham-Wading River was a changed basketball team after halftime of its season-opening game Monday night. SWR will be a different team yet again by the time it plays its third game Saturday at Westhampton Beach.
It has to be. That’s when six of the Wildcats who played for SWR’s football team in the Long Island Class IV final Saturday will be eligible to join their teammates on the court for a game.
“They’re going to help a lot,” said coach Kevin Culhane.
Among those transitioning from the gridiron to the hardwood are Liam Leonard, a starter the entire spring season, Dylan Kiely, Joey Marchese, Max Barone and Ryan Farron, who all saw time in helping the basketball Wildcats reach the Suffolk County Conference IV final this past spring and go 7-2. “We have a lot of experience coming back with those guys,” said Culhane.
So, imagine how Culhane felt Monday when he brought a team with practically no varsity experience to Southold High School for its non-league opener to the season and it responded with a 47-36 victory.
“It was a great first game for us and we got to build on this,” he said.
What the Wildcats had to especially like was the way they responded following a 24-24 first half in which the teams were never separated by more than five points. Alex Makarewicz sank a pair of free throws and Greg Friedman drained a three-point shot from the left corner to break the tie. SWR was off and running as Makarewicz and Max Julian banged in three-pointers and Friedman got the bounce on a driving shot for a 37-28 SWR lead by the end of the third quarter.
“Our defense picked up,” said Anthony Osness, a 6-4 junior forward who made his first varsity start.
It was a quarter in which Southold was limited to four points on 2-for-13 shooting.
“Two-for-13. My lord,” said Southold coach Lucas Grigonis.
Southold, which had started the game so encouragingly, never recovered as SWR used a burst of four straight baskets for the biggest lead of the night at 47-30. Osness made a layup, Lucas Miranda Lopez put up a floater off a drive and then Jackson Mader and Miranda Lopez both knocked down threes from the left wing.
“We’re good fighters, good teammates, and we got some good shooters, too,” said Osness.
What happened to Southold’s game in the second half?
“I think halftime happened,” Grigonis said. “I think fatigue set in a little bit and I think we were in a rhythm ending the half. I don’t think we started [the second half] with any.”
The offense for both teams was balanced. Osness and Makarewicz both scored 10 points each and Mader added nine. Southold’s Jack Sepenoski, Jaden Olsen and Karsten had eight points each.
The 6-3 Karsten and 6-4 Gavin Fredricks were factors in the paint. Fredricks gathered nine rebounds and blocked two shots while Karsten grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots.
It was a nice block by Southold’s Robert Cooper that concerned the First Settlers, though. Cooper fell to the floor in pain after swatting away a shot along the baseline and left the game with an injured left ankle with 33.3 seconds left in the first half.
Grigonis said it’s the fourth ankle injury his team has suffered already this young season.
“Robbie’s a great kid,” Grigonis said of the senior captain. “He’s a great teammate. He’s a good leader and, um, you know, we want him back as quickly as possible.”
Karsten said: “I thought we were very polished early. But then, unfortunately, like some of our starting lineup members like got hurt and then fatigue kicked in in the second half. But it’s all simple stuff that we can definitely work on.”
Southold, which went 3-4 this past spring with a team that had an average of 1.3 years of varsity experience, is still a work in progress. “We don’t know who we are yet,” Grigonis said. “I’m all about development and just seeing the progress, and tonight was definitely a game to learn from.”
SWR shot 44.7% from the field to Southold’s 36.6%. SWR hit 9 of 14 three-point attempts, including three by Mader. That helped the Wildcats, who were held to only three offensive rebounds and outrebounded, 25-18.
Culhane said he and assistant coach Tim Gilmore made some tweaks on defense in the second half. “We also showed much more patience on offense,” he said. “We moved the ball, and obviously when you hit shots, you look good.”
Things should look even better for SWR when their six late arrivals are ready for game action.