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 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.
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.
“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.”