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Mike Agostino

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Greg Giordano moves the ball around a Bay Shore opponent. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

Smithtown West will have a long offseason to swallow another early, albeit familiar playoff loss.

After finishing last season in the Suffolk County boys’ basketball Class AA semifinals, the Bulls were hoping to take it a step further.

Michael Gannon hurriedly looks to make a pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The team wanted a county title, but Bay Shore had other ideas in mind. Both years, as the No. 4 seed, Smithtown West found itself up against the top dog. Last year, the Bulls had trouble controlling a tough Brentwood team, losing 61-49. This time around, the team may have fallen behind early, but picked it back up to make it a close contest, falling this time in a close 66-59 battle Feb. 25 at Stony Brook University.

“We’ve been going for a long time,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said. “It’s more than just a season, it’s a 12-month commitment. Losing here, to this team, is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just unfortunate that they were a little bit better today.”

The Bulls, who went undefeated in League III to claim their second straight conference title, fell behind 20-10 at the end of the first, despite senior Gordon Shouler swishing two 3-pointers in the opening quarter. By halftime, the deficit grew slightly, with the Marauders holding a 36-24 advantage.

Chris Crespo shoots from the free-throw line. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“They were hitting their shots and we weren’t,” junior Michael Gannon said. “They started off hitting three after three and jump shot after jump shot. And after the first quarter their shots weren’t really falling but at that point they had a good lead.”

Junior Chris Crespo took matters into his own hands to get the Bulls back in the game. He banked two shots from beyond the arc, a field goal and a free throw in the third quarter. Senior Kyle LaGuardia added two buckets to help the Bulls close the gap to 50-43 after eight minutes.

“Bay Shore was a tough team — no doubt about it,” Crespo said. “Very aggressive, and a good matchup for us I thought. What changed was we were getting stops defensively, and those stops turned to baskets, which gave us a huge momentum push.”

Senior Greg Giordano had the hot hand in the fourth, swishing two foul shots and scoring on a jumper before a field goal brought his team within four points, 55-51, its closest score since the first, and as close as the Bulls would come for the remainder of the game.

“The game was unlike any game I’ve ever played before,” Giordano said. “Especially at the end when the game was out of reach with a few seconds left, it just hit me that this is the last game I will play in a Smithtown West uniform, and that was just such an emotional feeling.”

Kyle LaGuardia makes a leaping cross-court pass catch. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Although the senior standout will be moving on after this year, he said he’s honored to be a part of some big Bulls moments.

“I have grown up right next to Smithtown West, and when I was in elementary school, I went to all the booster camps, would see the older guys and hoped that one day I could be like them,” he said. “It has been a dream come true to not only play for Smithtown West, but to be able to cement our team’s legacy with two numbers on the banner. I wouldn’t trade my playing experience for anything.”

Despite graduating nine major contributors, Smithtown West’s two scoring leaders in the loss, Crespo and Gannon, will return next season. Crespo finished with a team-high 18 points with four 3-pointers, and Gannon was close behind with 15.

“It was a testament to these guys, because we pulled within four at one point, and they kept battling — I’m proud of them,” Agostino said. “This wasn’t our goal, but I’m not disappointed in them at all. We wanted better results, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. They’re gladiators, and they fought tooth and nail to their last breath.”

 

By Bill Landon

Colin Powell once said “success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence,” and the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team has used dedication and determination to attain another success this season. On Feb. 13, the Bulls outscored Centereach 59-29 on senior night in the last game of the regular season to remain perfect, at 14-0, in League III.

Smithtown West’s seniors started the game off strong, despite four not seeing much playing time this year. Will Kass started the three-point flurry with a shot that gave the Bulls an early 8-0 lead, but Centereach junior forward Chris Witherspoon drained back-to-back 3-pointers to make it a two-point game with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter. Centereach would come no closer.

Even with a different starting five, the Bulls found their rhythm early. Juniors Chris Crespo and Michael Gannon, and senior Gordon Shouler added shots from beyond the arc to help Smithtown West take a 34-13 advantage into halftime. In total, Smithtown West had eight 3-pointers from six different players.

“Our effort is what won this,” Crespo said. “Our seniors gave 100 percent effort and we executed all game. I’m really just in awe as to how we played together as a team tonight.”

Centereach senior Josue Chery opened the third quarter with a trey of his own, to bring the score to 34-16, but Smithtown West’s defensive pressure was more than the Cougars could handle. That pressure keyed in mainly on senior Jon Agostino, who is usually a double-digit scoring threat. Smithtown West held its coach’s nephew to just three points.

“I thought the defense was the best part of our game tonight,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said.

The Bulls continued to bank 3-pointer after 3-pointer, as senior Justin Durcan, Crespo and Gannon swished their shots to break the game open at the end of the third.

“I was just happy that all of our guys got to play,” Gannon said. “We have four seniors who don’t play as much and it was fun to watch them play well.”

Durcan finished atop the scoring sheet with 14 points. Crespo followed with 11 points, Gannon added nine and senior Chris VanderBrink tacked on seven.

“I think coming out hot and confident — even though we’re not the regular starters — that’s what made us so comfortable,” Durcan said. “It’s our preparation. We work hard every day in practice even if we don’t see much playing time, and I think we work harder in practice than any team in our league, and that helped us today.”

The loss eliminated Centereach from postseason play. The Cougars finished the season with a 9-11 overall mark and 6-8 record in league play.

The Bulls, who clinched the league title with their win over Copiague on Feb. 2, finished with the best boys’ basketball record in the county, at 19-1. Only one other team, Center Moriches, finished undefeated in conference play.

Heading into the postseason on a 15-game winning streak, Crespo said his team will maintain it’s winning attitude.

“Once we know who we’ll play,” he said, “the coaches are going to show us the personnel, what they run and what we have to do to defeat them.”

But Durcan said his team will remain composed as the No. 4 Bulls prepare to host No. 13 Lindenhurst Feb. 18 at 1 p.m.

“We’ve just got to stay poised and don’t expect to win, but the county championship is what we’re shooting for,” Durcan said. “Even though we’re up there [in the rankings], we’ve got to stay humble and hopefully our games will speak for themselves.”

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The Smithtown West boys' basketball team is all smiles after winning back-to-back League III titles with a 78-59 win over Copiague. Photo by Desirée Keegan

When the boys’ basketball team from Smithtown West entered the locker room, they let out a loud scream.

They’d done it. After not winning the League III title in nearly 50 years, the Bulls are now back-to-back champs. And they have their secret weapon to thank.

Greg Giordano drives to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Greg Giordano hadn’t played in the team’s first matchup against Copiague, and it turned out that worked to his advantage. The senior scored 28 points in Smithtown West’s 78-59 win Feb. 2.

“He’s strong, athletic, he’s a jumper, he’s fast, attacks the rim,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said of his captain. “He does the right thing every single day in practice. His work habits are awesome, and as a result, you get the byproduct of a game like this.”

Giordano found the open lane time and time again, driving the lane and using spin moves, reverse layups and under-the-basket passes amid a flurry of aggressive defenders.

“We came out firing,” he said. “We’ve got a veteran group of guys that love playing with each other, and whenever things are going down we know we can pick each other back up. We wanted to come out and make a statement.”

That statement was made early when the Bulls jumped out to a 10-2 lead after two minutes of play, scoring layups on their first five possessions — two by Giordano, two by Chris Crespo and the other by Kyle LaGuardia, before Gordon Shouler swished a three-point shot.

Kyle LaGuardia knocks down a layup. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We worked hard and I think we deserved it,” Crespo said. “Copiague is a team that can score the ball. They have crafty, excellent guards that get to the basket, so we needed to contain them.”

Leading 36-26 at halftime, five Bulls helped the team run away with the game in the third quarter, outscoring the Eagles 16-9. Giordano and senior Michael Gannon, who came off the bench to score 16 points and grab 10 rebounds, scored five points apiece over the eight minutes.

“During warmups I was hitting most of my shots, so when I got open I let it fly,”
Gannon said.

Copiague amped up the defense in the hopes of getting back in the game, scoring 12 straight points in the fourth quarter as the home crowd roared, but Giordano iced the game late, racking up 12 points off 14 free-throw attempts.

“They played like us,” Agostino said. “They played tough, they played smart, and they played together. They know that’s the formula we need to be successful.”

Chris Crespo avoids a block as he leaps to the rim. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The win extended the Bulls winning streak to 13 games. The team is just two games away from going undefeated in conference play.

Crespo said in the moments following the win it felt like a dream.

“We’ve been playing together since sixth and seventh grade, so it’s definitely a special moment,” he said. “The sky’s the limit for us.”

Agostino said he’s proud to see all the dedication pay off.

“We have to play against good teams that are strong and game plan and strategize to beat you,” he said. “Winning the league is the hardest thing to do, but we play each game the same way. I’m with these guys all the time — and there’s ups and downs — and they had to work hard and persevere and overcome and for them to still be successful, I’m elated. I couldn’t be happier for them.”

Smithtown West's Chris Crespo prepares to move the ball across the court around Centereach's Chris Witherspoon. Photo by Desirée Keegan

It’s raining “threes.”

A total 15 3-pointers swished through the netting on Centereach’s court Jan. 17. The Cougars got off to a hot start from long range thanks to senior Jon Agostino, who hit three of the first four treys in the game, but the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team only allowed Centereach to score one more after that in the Bulls’ 87-52 win.

Smithtown West’s Greg Giordano scores his first of three 3-pointers. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Coming off a big win over Copiague Jan. 10 — a 74-67 overtime victory after Chris Crespo tied the game at the fourth-quarter buzzer — the senior said his team has all the confidence in the world.

“It really boosted us as a team and I think we all got closer,” Crespo said. “We definitely bonded over that game. It was the first big test I think we’ve had. We played a few hard games against Half Hollow Hills West [the only loss this season but non-league] and St. Anthony’s, and we respect all those teams, but especially in a league game against Copiague it was a different atmosphere. I really felt good, and I feel we have a lot of confidence running through us for the rest of the season.”

That confidence showed against Centereach, as the Bulls — now on an eight-game win streak — built momentum throughout its total team success.

Agostino scored all four of his 3-pointers in the first half of the contest. He knocked down his first on the Cougars’ first possession, and added another at the 1:33 mark to tie the game 8-8. Smithtown West seniors Greg Giordano and Kyle LaGuardia scored a free throw and 3-pointer, respectively, to close out the scoring for the first eight minutes, leaving the Bulls up 12-8.

“In spite of our slow start in the first quarter, we were able to provide a strong second quarter and basically end the game in the third,” Giordano said. “It always amazes me how resilient we are and how we are able to get so many contributions.”

Three Bulls scored in the first, and two others contributed in the team’s 24-point second quarter.

Centereach’s Jon Agostino scores a 3-pointer. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“This was really a great game,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said. “Defensively, we played consistent, but I thought our ball movement was the difference. You could see when the ball moves, people get open and we knock down shots.”

Senior Gordon Shouler and junior Michael Gannon helped extend West’s lead to 36-20 by halftime.

Shouler tacked on two of his team-high four 3-pointers in the second, and added the other two in the third.

“Copiague is arguably one of the best teams in our league this year, and after getting a win coming from behind, getting out here and playing a good team, we were ready to go,” Shouler said. “We were very confident, and the biggest thing was just not having a letdown. You beat a team like that, you win a good game like that, you want to come out and carry that momentum, and we did that.”

Gannon added 11 points in the second, including a basket of his own from beyond the arc, and a pair of free throws. Giordano, who finished with a team-high 17 points, added two assists on Gannon’s scores.

“We perform with consistency,” Agostino said of his team. “We know who we are, we’ve won a lot of games the last couple of years and we’re confident. We know who we are and we’re going to play our way, and as hard and we’re going to play in a playoff game regardless of our opponent.”

The head coach said he was excited to see the team reach its offensive potential, finding the basket more than it has been. On days like that, he said he wishes he could play 11 players at a time, instead of five.

Smithtown West’s Kyle LaGuardia makes a layup. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“They all practice hard and they all work hard every day,” he said. “It’s good to get guys in. These guys are capable — they’re all capable. And when they get the time they’re going to be able to do big things with it.”

This is true for freshman Michael Behrens, who seized his opportunity off the bench in the fourth quarter and scored nine points to help put the game out of reach. Behind Giordano was Shouler with 14 points, and Gannon with 13.

Crespo, who finished with eight points, said he’s excited to see his Bulls playing team basketball.

“I have no complaints,” he said. “We moved the ball beautifully and we were knocking down shots. Gordon and Greg form the outside and Kyle and myself were finishing around the basket. We’re really, really coming together great and I have high hopes for the rest of the season if we keep this up.”

It’s the kind of mentality Agostino said he stresses to his players, about continuing to focus on executing plays and not letting the other team disrupt how they play. And the boys have bought into it, building on the win total with each season over the last few years.

“Coach always says just play your game and the rest will follow, and that’s exactly what we did,” Giordano said. “Our defense kept us in the lead until our offense was able to connect and build a big lead. I couldn’t be more excited about the way our team has progressed throughout the season, and feel like we have a chance to do something really special.”

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“There’s no reason we can’t win this game,” Smithtown West senior Matt English told his team during warm-ups. “What do we have to lose? Nothing.”

So with that, the No. 4 Smithtown West boys’ basketball team battled on the boards and hung in there with a tough No. 1-seeded Brentwood team during the Suffolk County Class AA semifinals at Stony Brook University Sunday night. The team’s efforts may not have been enough, as the Bulls fell 61-49 to the Indians, but in head coach Mike Agostino’s eyes, the team did everything it needed to.

“We did everything that we usually do — we played our butts off, we executed on offense, we moved the ball, set screens, we did all of the things necessary to win the game,” he said. “In terms of what we can control and what we did, they did everything I wanted them to.”

Senior Nick Grande started the game off strong for the Bulls, stealing a pass and converting the opportunity for points with a breakaway layup just 13 seconds into the game.

Brentwood countered with two field goals of its own before senior Doug Levy tied it up with a layup of his own, and tied it up again with an offensive rebound on the Bulls’ next possession, to bring the score to 6-6.

Levy tapped in another offensive rebound and sophomore Chris Crespo added a put-in and two free-throw points, but at the end of the eight minutes, the Bulls found themselves down 20-12.

The two teams continued to trade points in the second stanza, but the Bulls’ deficit grew to 10 points, with a 29-19 halftime score.

Crespo started off the third like Grande did the first, stealing the ball and converting a layup at the 7:12 mark, and added a field goal and a 3-point play to go alone with junior Greg Giordano’s field goal early on to help Smithtown West close the gap to 35-28, but that was as close as the team would come.

English finished with a team-high 14 points, Giordano netted 11, Crespo tacked on seven and Levy and junior Kyle LaGuardia added seven points apiece.

The Bulls may have lost, but the boys kept up with the No. 1-ranked team in the county, and never stopped hustling.

“It’s nothing new; it doesn’t’ surprise me,” Agostino said of the team’s commitment to never quitting. “That’s the expectation. It doesn’t surprise me, but it fills me with a lot of pride each time I see them put forth that effort. I never felt choked up after losing a game, but I did with them. The emotion comes from how hard they tried and how much effort they put in, and that’s what makes me really happy.”

Some of the teammates took to Twitter after the game to express their gratitude and feelings on being a part of the program.

“Thanks to everyone who came out to support,” Giordano wrote. “I wouldn’t have wanted to go to battle with any other group of guys these past four years. I love all of you.”

Despite also playing baseball, and choosing to play it in college, Grande wrote about how glad he was to have had the opportunity to play for his hoops team.

“Loved this game since I first picked up a basketball,” he said. “Gonna miss it like hell, but I couldn’t have asked for a better last ride.”

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