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.
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.
“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.”
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.”