By Jim Ferchland
The big man on campus can stuff the stat sheet in a variety of ways.
Ward Melville’s senior 6-foot, 8-inch Alex Sobel said he would be 100 percent ready for the playoffs following a quiet appearance in the Patriots’ win over Sachem East Feb. 9 – he wasn’t kidding.
Sobel came back in a big way Feb. 17 against Half Hollow Hills West, scoring 21 points, hauling in 10 rebounds and blocking six shots in a 66-50 win in the first round of the Class AA playoffs.
“I felt really good honestly,” Sobel said. “I feel healthy. Blocking shots is one of the best parts of my game. It definitely felt good to get back in my rhythm that I was in earlier in the season.”
Junior Ray Grabowski had the hot hand in the first half, putting up 16 of his 20 total points. Classmate Robert Soto finished with 11 points.
Grabowski said the crowd and his teammates got him going.
“I thought the defense was very good,” Grabowski said. “Me, Trevor [Cronin] and even Rob [Soto] — we all played very good on [Derek] Brower. Sobel was big in help defense. He had a lot of blocked shots. The momentum — if we keep playing this good, I think we can go as far as we want.”
Hills West’s dynamic senior backcourt of Derek Brower Jr. and Jeff Terry combined for 30 points. Brower Jr. led the Colts with 17 points, but Ward Melville’s head coach had a game plan to wear them out.
“If we chased him around and ran off screens and had to run all over to get open, eventually his legs would get tired and then his shot would go,” Alex Piccirillo said. “We tried to take away their first option.”
At halftime, the Patriots had a comfortable 43-21 lead, outscoring the Colts 18-8 in the second quarter. Even with the advantage, Piccirillo told his guys that the game wasn’t over.
“I told them there’s no time to step on the brake,” Piccirillo said. “[I wanted them to] just try to continue to move forward, run the floor and defend. Our defense will lead to any offensive opportunities that we want.”
Ward Melville’s Soto, who went a 4-for-4 from the foul line, said his strategy was to draw contact and keep attacking the rim.
“I felt pretty confident taking the ball to the bucket,” Soto said. “I didn’t really think anybody could stay with me, so I kept driving to the basket.”
Ward Melville senior guard Brendan Martin had four points, but had the ball in his hands most of the game. Piccirillo said the team wouldn’t be where it is now without their playmaker.
“He’s our floor general,” Piccirillo said of Martin. “He takes care of everything for us. He gets us into our offense, he’s the first one to communicate; without him, we don’t get this far.”
In his final home game, Sobel said the result was drawn up as expected.
“In the first quarter, we were up and we never looked back,” he said. “We never really let the game get close — that’s how you want every game to go. It’s been a great four years.”
Ward Melville is set to play at Half Hollow Hills East Feb. 20 at 4:30 p.m. Hills East beat Ward Melville last year in the same round, 75-59.
“It’s the playoffs,” Piccirillo said. “Every team is good. It’s down to the final eight teams in Suffolk County. It’s going to be a battle, they have Savion Lewis, who’s the best player in the county. We know we have our hands full, but we have some pretty good players, too.”