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Alex Merhige

By Bill Landon

The Tornadoes are already beginning to blow through the bracket.

The eyes of the storm, seniors Alex Merhige and Kyle Stolba, racked up 29 points each as the No. 1-seeded Harborfields boys’ basketball team, which totaled a lucky 13 3-pointers in the win, knocked out No. 8 Mount Sinai, 86-53, in the Class A quarterfinals Feb. 17.

Fresh off a thrilling overtime win the night before, a 70-63 win over No. 9 Comsewogue, the Mustangs’ season comes to an abrupt end.

From opening tipoff, the game was never in question. The Tornadoes flexed their muscles, racking up point after point — draining six 3-pointers in the first quarter alone.

Merhige, who finished the game with 12 rebounds and five blocks, wowed the crowd with his second dunk of the game in the second stanza. Stolba, who had a triple double with 10 assists and 10 rebounds, hit his fourth trey of the game, and the Tornadoes took a 30-point lead into the halftime break, 56-26.

“They’re always good competitors — they work hard even when they got down in the first quarter they never gave up on us,” Stolba said of Mount Sinai. “The coach had to wake us up a little in the second just to keep going, we caught fire and I think we showed why we’re the No. 1 seed.”

Stolba started the scoring for the second half with a pair of field goals, senior Joe Kelly hit a 3-pointer and Merhige drained his fourth trey for a 73-37 advantage heading into the final eight minutes of play.

“We played great — we moved the ball really well, our defense in the first half was unbelievable,” Merhige said. “We only missed like two three’s in the first half, but our next game definitely won’t be so easy.”

Harborfields head coach John Tampori pulled his starters and the bench took the team to the finish line.

Senior David Maitre answered the call with a field goal and a shot from beyond the arc to help put the win in the record book.

Mount Sinai head coach Ryan McNeely said he was proud to see his boys make it as far as they did.

“Some people counted us out when we were 3-6 in the league, but then we won five out of six before this game,” he said. “We knew they were an excellent team and they shot the ball much better than we saw watching tape, but I’m very proud of our guys in how we finished the season.”

Senior Harrison Bak led Mount Sinai with 13 points, and classmate Nick Rose followed close behind with 11.

Senior Shane Wagner made a pair of field goals and three triples to place him second in scoring behind Stolba and Merhige with 13 points.

Harborfields head coach John Tampori said he liked what he saw from his team, and hopes that the boys can keep up the good work.

“Mount Sinai is well coached and they’re a scrappy team that put forth a great effort,” he said. “We’re not that much better than they are, it’s just that tonight was our night. They had a tough overtime win last night and to come here the next day and played us hard and that’s a credit to them.”

Harborfields will play No. 5 Wyandanch at home Feb. 21 at 5 p.m. Wagner said if his team plays like it did against Mount Sinai, they’ll be ready.

“They came out hot, but we came out hotter,” Wagner said of Mount Sinai. “We were hitting shots. I don’t think we missed a shot in the first quarter, maybe a 3-pointer. For the next round, we are definitely mentally ready, and we’re physically ready.”

Alex Merhige blocks Rocky Point’s Jack Costa’s shot. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Harborfields seniors Alex Merhige and Shane Wagner led the way for the top-seeded Tornadoes who blew past host Rocky Point, 64-30, Jan. 31.

League V’s Rocky Point, at 1-9, was no match for Harborfields, which notched its 10th League V victory of the year, to improve to 10-1 with just three games left in the regular season.

Shane Wagner moves the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Harborfields senior Kyle Stolba sparked the offense early with three straight 3-pointers, and Wagner added a trifecta of his own to lead the Tornadoes to a 29-11 lead after the first quarter.

Always a scoring threat, Rocky Point junior Alec Rinaldi was shut down by the  Tornadoes defense, and wouldn’t find the rim until the second period, where he banked a field goal and a 3-pointer to bring the score to 29-16. Despite holding off Rinaldi, the Tornadoes were limited in scoring.

Wagner tacked on a pair of field goals and another 3-pointer, and Stolba, Merhige and sophomore Pat Williamson hit for two, for a 35-20 lead into the locker room.

“Our goal was to increase the tempo of the game — speed it up as we pressed them the whole game —  and we got a lot of turnovers because of that,” Wagner said. “I thought we played well on defense and we held Rinaldi.”

Merhige said as long as his team plays solid defense and protects the ball, the scoring will come.

“I thought we moved the ball really well, we got some open threes,” Merhige said. “We were finding people on the fast break, we played good [defense and did well] rebounding.”

Rinaldi opened the second half with a pair of 3-pointers, and was fouled driving the lane, netting a pair of free throws for all of the eight points the Eagles could muster in the third quarter. He finished the game with 13 points, and junior David Apperson added eight.

Ahead 56-28 going into the final eight minutes of play, Harborfields’ head coach John Tampori let his bench players take it from there. Sophomores Michael McDermott and Ryan Rittberger each banked two points, Williamson struck again and junior Luca Cordova hit a field goal for Harborfields’ final points in the contest.

Rocky Point’s Alec Rinaldi shoots while Harborfields’ Joe Kelly reaches for the block. Photo by Bill Landon

Wagner led Harborfields with 14 points, Merhige finished with 12 and Stolba tacked on 11.

Tampori said he employed a different defensive strategy that he hadn’t used earlier in the season.

‘We threw a couple of new things out today — like we usually don’t press full court, but we did today because we thought we had an advantage there,” he said. “One of our goals is to be as best as we can be on defense. There’s always room for improvement.”

With the win, Harborfields is 15-2 overall, but is tied with Amityville at 10-1 in the league standings. The Tornadoes will host Miller Place today, Feb. 2, at 6 p.m.

“We shot the ball well tonight, so we got everyone in tonight, which is a great feeling,” Tampori said. “With three games left before the playoffs, we’ll focus on making good decisions with the basketball and playing good sound positional defense.”

Last season, Merhige was sidelined with an injury, and Harborfields won two playoff games to become the Suffolk County champion, before falling to Elmont in the Long Island title game, 41-32, after edging the team 61-60 earlier that season.

With a healthy Merhige back in the lineup, prospects for the postseason may be even brighter this time around.

The Harborfields boys’ basketball team gathers in a circle before its matchup against Elmont in the Class A Long Island Championship game on March 6 where the Tornadoes fell short, 39-32. Photo by Joe Galotti

By Joe Galotti

It has been without a doubt a memorable winter for the Harborfields boys’ basketball team. But on Sunday afternoon, the Tornadoes suffered a rather disappointing finish to their season, that they will hope to soon forget.

Harborfields senior Malcolm Wynter, who scored seven points, dribbles the basketball between his legs. Photo by Joe Galotti
Harborfields senior Malcolm Wynter, who scored seven points, dribbles the basketball between his legs. Photo by Joe Galotti

Harborfields fell to Elmont, 41-32, in the Long Island Class A Championship matchup at Long Island University, denying the team a chance to compete for a New York State title. The Tornadoes were ice cold from the field down the stretch, failing to register a point during the final 11 minutes of the contest.

“We couldn’t score, it’s as simple as that,” Harborfields head coach John Tampori said. “We tried everything, but the ball wouldn’t go down. Layups, jump shots, it just didn’t happen for us. It was a tough, hard-fought game, and we came up short.”

Senior Rob Pecorelli led the Tornadoes with 10 points in the game. Senior Malcolm Wynter added seven points, while junior Kyle Stolba registered two 3-pointers.

Harborfields’ lineup was without junior big man Alex Merhige, who sat out due to an arm injury. The club seemed to feel the impact of his absence on both sides of the court in the title matchup.

“Any time you’re missing your tallest guy it hurts,” Tampori said. “He means so much to us back there. He can score inside for us, and we missed him terribly.”

The Tornadoes and Spartans have both been dangerous offensive teams this season. But, in their meeting on Sunday, points seemed to be hard to come by for both squads.

Harborfields senior Alex Bloom holds the ball on offense. Photo by Joe Galotti
Harborfields senior Alex Bloom holds the ball on offense. Photo by Joe Galotti

From the start, the game proved to be a physical battle, with players unafraid to bang bodies down low in the paint. Elmont jumped out to an early eight-point lead, but Harborfields managed to battle back and trail only 22-21 at the halftime break.

Early on in the third quarter, Wynter scored back-to-back baskets, putting his team up by four. Elmont senior Jalen Burgess then responded with three consecutive buckets of his own, helping Elmont end the quarter on a 10-4 run, and take a two-point advantage into the final stanza.

Over the game’s final eight minutes, a packed bleacher full of Tornadoes fans kept on waiting for their team to get hot from the outside, and the team started draining shots like they had all season long. But Harborfields could not get anything to fall in the fourth, as the Spartans’ suffocating defense forced them into difficult shot after difficult shot.

Helping Elmont pitch a shutout in the game’s final quarter was the zone defense it deployed. On Jan. 16, the Spartans allowed 61 points to Harborfields in a loss. But that was before the team made the switch to its new defensive strategy.

Harborfields senior Robert Pecorelli, who scored a team-high 10 points, attempts to dribble past the Elmont defender in front of him while senior Danny Morgan sets a pick. Photo by Joe Galotti
Harborfields senior Robert Pecorelli, who scored a team-high 10 points, attempts to dribble past the Elmont defender in front of him while senior Danny Morgan sets a pick. Photo by Joe Galotti

“When we played them earlier in the year, we didn’t play any zone,” Elmont head coach George Holub said. “Midway through the year, we started playing zone, and it suits these guys.”

The Spartans, who earned their program’s first Long Island Championship, go on to play Byram Hills in the New York State semifinals on Saturday.

Despite the deflating ending to their season, Harborfields still finishes the year with an impressive 19-3 record and a Suffolk County small school title under its belt. The Tornadoes also had the rare experience of winning 19 consecutive games. After the loss to Elmont, Tampori was quick to praise his senior-heavy group.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve never been more proud of any team I’ve been around,” he said. “They always gave me all they got.”

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The Harborfields boys' basketball team celebrates its 45-42 victory over East Hampton for the Suffolk County Class A title. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The No. 1-seeded Harborfields boys’ basketball team led by 10 points before the No. 2 East Hampton Bonackers rallied back and, with a big 3-pointer, tied the game at 42-42 with a minute left in regulation at Suffolk County Community College’s Selden campus Friday night. Despite the scare, the Tornadoes were able to pull ahead for a close 45-42 victory, for the Suffolk County Class A title.

Alex Merhige battles his way to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon
Alex Merhige battles his way to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon

“I thought, ‘Why did I sign up for this job?’ because it’s getting me gray and bald, but I have a lot of confidence in my guys, because they’ve been in games like this before,” Harborfields head coach John Tampori said of the game being tied in the final minute. “We pushed up, we pressed to speed up the tempo of the game so we could get some easy shots, but these guys with their effort were amazing. Even when they couldn’t shoot the ball they still found a way to score enough points.”

Harborfields struggled to find the rim in the first period, but down by two points with time expiring, Harborfields junior forward Alex Merhige swished a buzzer-beating field goal to tie the game at 11-11.

Both teams traded points until deadlocked at 17-17, but by the time the teams made their way to the locker room, East Hampton pulled ahead 23-19.

The scoreboard remained frozen for most of the third quarter, as both teams struggled to find the net. Harborfields held its opponent to just three points, a trifecta by Kyle McKee, who would make his presence known in the final quarter.

Harborfields senior guard Robert Pecorelli sparked a rally late in the period, netting eight points to put his team out front 29-26.

Malcolm Wynter plows his way through traffic to the hoop. Photo by Bill Landon
Malcolm Wynter plows his way through traffic to the hoop. Photo by Bill Landon

In a miscue, East Hampton in-bounded the ball to a teammate who was standing out of bounds, which turned the ball over to the Tornadoes with just over four minutes remaining. With his team leading by one point, Harborfields senior guard Malcolm Wynter hit a big 3-pointer, his second of the night, to help his team edge ahead 37-33. Pecorelli followed with a trey of his own that pushed his team’s advantage to 40-36.

Wynter said he wasn’t surprised by East Hampton’s range and shooting prowess.

“We had them all scouted because it’s such a big game and we knew they had shooters, and shooters make shots, that’s what they do, but we can shoot, too,” he said.

East Hampton’s McKee struck with another trey to make it a one-point game, but Merhige answered with a field goal that helped his team stay out front 42-39 with just over a minute left. McKee, finding his rhythm outside, nailed his fourth triple of the game that tied it at 42-42,

“They hit that big shot, but we rallied together, tightened up on defense, got out on their shooters and had good possessions,” Harborfields senior guard Danny Morgan said.

Pecorelli said his teammates were able to keep their head in the game because they’ve been in pressure situations before.

“We’re all seniors and we stayed calm, we’ve been in that position before and we had a hard non-league schedule, especially when we played Elmont,” he said. “So we stayed relaxed ran the offense that our coach puts in and knew we’d be fine. Hard work pays off our defense played really well tonight.”

With the clock winding down to seven seconds, Harborfields senior guard Alex Bloom, off a feed from Wynter, swished a three-point shot for the lead that held up at the buzzer.

Harborfields advances to take on No. 1-ranked Southampton, the Class B champion, Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus, in the Small School championship game.

“We’ll scout them, and we’ll have a couple of good practices and then,” Morgan said, “we’ll do what we do.”

The Harbofields boys' basketball team poses for a group photo with their championship plaque. Photo by Bill Landon
The Harbofields boys’ basketball team poses for a group photo with their championship plaque. Photo by Bill Landon