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.
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.
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.