The Shelter Island boys and the Pierson girls lost high school playoff basketball games this past week, though the results did not dim their singular seasons during which Shelter Island won its first county championship ever and its first league championship since 1995, and Pierson won its first league title since 1992 and its first county championship since 2000.
Had the girls’ Long Island championship game lasted another quarter, the Whalers, who were on fire going down to the wire, arguably would have defeated Friends Academy, but the taller Quakers held on for a 54-44 win at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue.
The entire first half was nip-and-tuck, and then, with Kasey Gilbride sidelined for a few minutes in the third quarter because of foul trouble, the Nassau team took advantage, and thanks to a 3-point play, a fast-break layup, a Whaler turnover, and another basket, went up by 7 points, a lead it was to extend to 20 midway through the fourth.
Pierson didn’t go gently, however. Playing with crowd-pleasing fervor, the Sag Harbor girls launched a 13-2 run during which Gilbride and May Evjen each had two steals and two baskets (one of Gilbride’s steals resulted in a 3-point play), and during which two players off the bench — Sol Varela and Ashley Nill — also hit 2s. That heady rally cut the Academy’s lead to 53-44, but then time ran out.
As for Shelter Island, Tristan Wissemann, the 6-foot-3-inch sophomore center, scored 19 points in a 63-35 class D regional semifinal win over Clark Academy at the Westchester County Center on March 4, the same day Pierson and Friends Academy played at St. Joe’s. Other Islanders in the scoring column were Matt Dunning, with 13, and Matt Belt Cappellino with 9.
“Matt Dunning had a super game,” said the Indians’ coach, Mike Mundy, who had scouted Clark Academy earlier in the week and knew what to expect. “They were athletic,” he said, “but not as skilled as us. We broke their 2-3 zone and got good looks. They tried to press and we broke it.”
The subsequent Southeast regional final with Coleman Catholic was a different story, however. “They were a great team,” said Mundy, “strong in all positions. Four of their starting five ended in double digits. They were well coached. We’d have to play our best game to compete with them and we didn’t play our best game that day. They were quicker, they outrebounded us, and they outscored us [73-46].”
It did seem a bit unfair, he added, that public schools such as Shelter Island often had to confront private schools in what is billed as the state public high school tournament.
Looking ahead, while he’ll lose four senior starters, Mundy will have Wissemann, Billy Boeklen, one of the stars of Shelter Island’s 73-66 county-championship win over Greenport, Sawyer Clark (who, because of other commitments, missed the playoffs), and Johnny Sturges back, among others.
“For the younger guys this is just the beginning,” Mundy said. “We should compete from now on, at least at the county D level. If they decide to make the commitment.”