By Bill Landon
With two games left to play in the regular season, the Ward Melville boys’ basketball team, at 6-5 in League I, was playing for its postseason life when the team hit the road to take on Commack Tuesday.
The game was close through three quarters, but Commack, also at 6-5 at the start of the game, slowly edged ahead in a game largely decided at the free-throw line, to win 56-45.
The Patriots led by two points after the first eight minutes of play, and Commack enjoyed a one-point lead at the halftime break. Ward Melville senior Mathew O’Hea had the hot hand in the first half, netting four field goals in the first quarter and nine more in the second.
O’Hea said it’s a hostile environment whenever his team travels to Commack.
“It’s always tough to play here — they’ve got a really great fan base,” O’Hea said. “I thought we played hard — we gave it a great effort — but we just didn’t come out with a win tonight.”
With the game tied at 30-30, Ward Melville senior Tim Specht went to the line shooting two and swished both for the lead at the 6:53 mark of the third.
“Commack’s known for their crowd, and getting in our faces when we make mistakes,” Specht said. “So we knew that was coming, and we fell into that trap at the end.”
It was Specht with the hot hand in the second half though. With his Patriots team up by two points, he went to the charity stripe and nailed both opportunities to help his team edge ahead, 38-34, with 1:55 left to go in the third period.
Commack battled back and retook the lead 40-38 to begin the final quarter, and the Patriots would not see a lead the rest of the way. The game, infested with fouls, sent Ward Melville junior Noah Kepes to the line, where he netted both to retie the game at 40-40, but that’s as close as the team would come.
Commack slowly edged ahead, point by point, and outscored the Patriots 10-3 at the charity stripe in the final minutes to win the game.
O’Hea led all scorers with 19, while Specht was next in line for the Patriots with 13 points.
Ward Melville head coach Alexander Piccirillo said his team played without a let-up for all 32 minutes. “We just couldn’t get some shots to fall and we struggled to get stops down the stretch,” he said. “We hit all of our free throws today, we boxed out, we were able to rebound with them, but we turned it over in key spots and when we needed a big shot, we just couldn’t get it to fall.”
Ward Melville takes on William Floyd at home in a must-win game Friday, Feb. 5, at 6:15 p.m., before facing undefeated powerhouse Brentwood on Monday to wrap up the regular season.
To prepare for Friday’s game against Floyd, Piccirillo said his team will prepare like it would for any other game, adding that his players will have two good practices to be fully prepared for the last home game.
“We’ll just mentally prepare — we’ll watch film because its senior night and we need that win,” Specht said. “We will not leave the gym without that win.”