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John Tampori

By Bill Landon

The Tornadoes are already beginning to blow through the bracket.

The eyes of the storm, seniors Alex Merhige and Kyle Stolba, racked up 29 points each as the No. 1-seeded Harborfields boys’ basketball team, which totaled a lucky 13 3-pointers in the win, knocked out No. 8 Mount Sinai, 86-53, in the Class A quarterfinals Feb. 17.

Fresh off a thrilling overtime win the night before, a 70-63 win over No. 9 Comsewogue, the Mustangs’ season comes to an abrupt end.

From opening tipoff, the game was never in question. The Tornadoes flexed their muscles, racking up point after point — draining six 3-pointers in the first quarter alone.

Merhige, who finished the game with 12 rebounds and five blocks, wowed the crowd with his second dunk of the game in the second stanza. Stolba, who had a triple double with 10 assists and 10 rebounds, hit his fourth trey of the game, and the Tornadoes took a 30-point lead into the halftime break, 56-26.

“They’re always good competitors — they work hard even when they got down in the first quarter they never gave up on us,” Stolba said of Mount Sinai. “The coach had to wake us up a little in the second just to keep going, we caught fire and I think we showed why we’re the No. 1 seed.”

Stolba started the scoring for the second half with a pair of field goals, senior Joe Kelly hit a 3-pointer and Merhige drained his fourth trey for a 73-37 advantage heading into the final eight minutes of play.

“We played great — we moved the ball really well, our defense in the first half was unbelievable,” Merhige said. “We only missed like two three’s in the first half, but our next game definitely won’t be so easy.”

Harborfields head coach John Tampori pulled his starters and the bench took the team to the finish line.

Senior David Maitre answered the call with a field goal and a shot from beyond the arc to help put the win in the record book.

Mount Sinai head coach Ryan McNeely said he was proud to see his boys make it as far as they did.

“Some people counted us out when we were 3-6 in the league, but then we won five out of six before this game,” he said. “We knew they were an excellent team and they shot the ball much better than we saw watching tape, but I’m very proud of our guys in how we finished the season.”

Senior Harrison Bak led Mount Sinai with 13 points, and classmate Nick Rose followed close behind with 11.

Senior Shane Wagner made a pair of field goals and three triples to place him second in scoring behind Stolba and Merhige with 13 points.

Harborfields head coach John Tampori said he liked what he saw from his team, and hopes that the boys can keep up the good work.

“Mount Sinai is well coached and they’re a scrappy team that put forth a great effort,” he said. “We’re not that much better than they are, it’s just that tonight was our night. They had a tough overtime win last night and to come here the next day and played us hard and that’s a credit to them.”

Harborfields will play No. 5 Wyandanch at home Feb. 21 at 5 p.m. Wagner said if his team plays like it did against Mount Sinai, they’ll be ready.

“They came out hot, but we came out hotter,” Wagner said of Mount Sinai. “We were hitting shots. I don’t think we missed a shot in the first quarter, maybe a 3-pointer. For the next round, we are definitely mentally ready, and we’re physically ready.”

The Harborfields boys’ basketball team gathers in a circle before its matchup against Elmont in the Class A Long Island Championship game on March 6 where the Tornadoes fell short, 39-32. Photo by Joe Galotti

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 senior Malcolm Wynter, who scored seven points, dribbles the basketball between his legs. Photo by Joe Galotti
Harborfields senior Malcolm Wynter, who scored seven points, dribbles the basketball between his legs. Photo by Joe Galotti

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.

Harborfields senior Alex Bloom holds the ball on offense. Photo by Joe Galotti
Harborfields senior Alex Bloom holds the ball on offense. Photo by Joe Galotti

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.

Harborfields senior Robert Pecorelli, who scored a team-high 10 points, attempts to dribble past the Elmont defender in front of him while senior Danny Morgan sets a pick. Photo by Joe Galotti
Harborfields senior Robert Pecorelli, who scored a team-high 10 points, attempts to dribble past the Elmont defender in front of him while senior Danny Morgan sets a pick. Photo by Joe Galotti

“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.”

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Harborfields' Robert Pecorelli nails a 3-pointer in the Suffolk County Section XI championship game at Stony Brook University on Feb. 27. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

For the first time in 20 games, the Harborfields’ boys’ basketball team met its match.

Harborfields' Danny Morgan drives the baseline. Photo by Bill Landon
Harborfields’ Danny Morgan drives the baseline. Photo by Bill Landon

With the Class A champion Harborfields ahead 56-55 with 5.2 seconds left in regulation, the Class AA champion Half Hollow Hills West, went to the free-throw line and swished both opportunities to capture the overall Suffolk County championship title, 57-56, at Stony Brook’ University’s Island Federal Credit Union Arena Friday night.

“It’s been all year that our guys don’t stop fighting and they have a way of just staying in the game, even against a team like Half Hollow Hills West,” Harborfields head coach John Tampori said. “We were able to stay right with them.”

It was a push-and-shove game from the opening tipoff, and neither team was able to break the game open. After Harborfields senior guard Robert Pecorelli launched a deep shot that hit the basket at the buzzer, the game was tied 18-18 at the end of the first eight minutes.

Harborfields senior guard Malcolm Wynter swished his second 3-pointer to open the second quarter, which retied the game at 21-21.

Hills West turned up the heat and edged ahead with a buzzer-beater of its own to end the half up 32-24.

Harborfields' Malcolm Wynter stares down the Half Hollow Hills West defense. Photo by Bill Landon
Harborfields’ Malcolm Wynter stares down the Half Hollow Hills West defense. Photo by Bill Landon

Harborfields’ 3-point game caught fire in the third period when Pecorelli banked his fourth trifecta of the game, Wynter drained his third and senior guard Danny Morgan netted his second, as the momentum began to shift.

On Hills West’s next possession, Morgan snatched the inbounds pass, and bolted through the paint for a layup that again tied the game, this time, at 41-41 with less than two minutes left in the period.

Trailing by a point in the fourth, Harborfields senior forward Nick Mitchell got the call off an inside pass, did a spin move in the paint and found the rim to put his team back in front, 50-49, with 5:19 left in regulation. Hills West countered though, to retake a one-point lead.

Wynter’s lightning-fast defensive play matched his high-scoring offense, as the senior sensed where the Hills West’s no-look passes were going. On a seemingly simple inbounds pass, Wynter flashed in front for the steal and went to the rim for the score to retake the lead for his team.

Harborfields' Nick Mitchell scores two points. Photo by Bill Landon
Harborfields’ Nick Mitchell scores two points. Photo by Bill Landon

Hills West retaliated with two consecutive scores to take a 55-52 lead with just over a minute left, but Mitchell went to the stripe shooting two and split his appearance to make it a two-point game. Wynter struck again with a monster 3-pointer, his fourth of the night, to retake the lead by one with 58 seconds left in regulation.

Trailing by one with 5.2 seconds left, Hills West senior Richard Altenord went to the charity stripe shooting two. The senior calmly sank both for a one-point advantage as Harborfields called time out.

“Hills West — they’re real good,” Tampori said. “Anyone who beats Brentwood and Northport is really good.”

With time for one final offensive possession, Harborfields did what it has done all season, and put the ball in Wynter’s hands. The senior raced to the top of the key in a desperate attempt to find the net, but the buzzer sounded before the point guard could get the shot off.

Harborfields' Alex Bloom scores a layup. Photo by Bill Landon
Harborfields’ Alex Bloom scores a layup. Photo by Bill Landon

“We got a little unlucky,” Tampori said. “They had the last possession and they got a foul called and that was the difference in the game.”

Wynter lead his team in scoring with 20 points, Pecorelli put up 12 and Morgan added 10.

Harborfields sets its sights higher when the Tornadoes travel to Long Island University Post for the Long Island Championship on March 6, where they’ll face Elmont for a second time this season. The Tornadoes defeated the Nassau champions 61-60 on Jan. 16 in a nonleague matchup. Tipoff for the championship game on Sunday is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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The Harborfields boys' basketball team celebrates its 45-42 victory over East Hampton for the Suffolk County Class A title. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The No. 1-seeded Harborfields boys’ basketball team led by 10 points before the No. 2 East Hampton Bonackers rallied back and, with a big 3-pointer, tied the game at 42-42 with a minute left in regulation at Suffolk County Community College’s Selden campus Friday night. Despite the scare, the Tornadoes were able to pull ahead for a close 45-42 victory, for the Suffolk County Class A title.

Alex Merhige battles his way to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon
Alex Merhige battles his way to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon

“I thought, ‘Why did I sign up for this job?’ because it’s getting me gray and bald, but I have a lot of confidence in my guys, because they’ve been in games like this before,” Harborfields head coach John Tampori said of the game being tied in the final minute. “We pushed up, we pressed to speed up the tempo of the game so we could get some easy shots, but these guys with their effort were amazing. Even when they couldn’t shoot the ball they still found a way to score enough points.”

Harborfields struggled to find the rim in the first period, but down by two points with time expiring, Harborfields junior forward Alex Merhige swished a buzzer-beating field goal to tie the game at 11-11.

Both teams traded points until deadlocked at 17-17, but by the time the teams made their way to the locker room, East Hampton pulled ahead 23-19.

The scoreboard remained frozen for most of the third quarter, as both teams struggled to find the net. Harborfields held its opponent to just three points, a trifecta by Kyle McKee, who would make his presence known in the final quarter.

Harborfields senior guard Robert Pecorelli sparked a rally late in the period, netting eight points to put his team out front 29-26.

Malcolm Wynter plows his way through traffic to the hoop. Photo by Bill Landon
Malcolm Wynter plows his way through traffic to the hoop. Photo by Bill Landon

In a miscue, East Hampton in-bounded the ball to a teammate who was standing out of bounds, which turned the ball over to the Tornadoes with just over four minutes remaining. With his team leading by one point, Harborfields senior guard Malcolm Wynter hit a big 3-pointer, his second of the night, to help his team edge ahead 37-33. Pecorelli followed with a trey of his own that pushed his team’s advantage to 40-36.

Wynter said he wasn’t surprised by East Hampton’s range and shooting prowess.

“We had them all scouted because it’s such a big game and we knew they had shooters, and shooters make shots, that’s what they do, but we can shoot, too,” he said.

East Hampton’s McKee struck with another trey to make it a one-point game, but Merhige answered with a field goal that helped his team stay out front 42-39 with just over a minute left. McKee, finding his rhythm outside, nailed his fourth triple of the game that tied it at 42-42,

“They hit that big shot, but we rallied together, tightened up on defense, got out on their shooters and had good possessions,” Harborfields senior guard Danny Morgan said.

Pecorelli said his teammates were able to keep their head in the game because they’ve been in pressure situations before.

“We’re all seniors and we stayed calm, we’ve been in that position before and we had a hard non-league schedule, especially when we played Elmont,” he said. “So we stayed relaxed ran the offense that our coach puts in and knew we’d be fine. Hard work pays off our defense played really well tonight.”

With the clock winding down to seven seconds, Harborfields senior guard Alex Bloom, off a feed from Wynter, swished a three-point shot for the lead that held up at the buzzer.

Harborfields advances to take on No. 1-ranked Southampton, the Class B champion, Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus, in the Small School championship game.

“We’ll scout them, and we’ll have a couple of good practices and then,” Morgan said, “we’ll do what we do.”

The Harbofields boys' basketball team poses for a group photo with their championship plaque. Photo by Bill Landon
The Harbofields boys’ basketball team poses for a group photo with their championship plaque. Photo by Bill Landon

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields’ boys’ basketball team has become one of the most celebrated at the high school in recent years, with the boys winning the League V title for the eighth straight year.

Although this is only John Tampori’s first year as head coach of the Tornadoes, he has been the assistant coach for the last 11 years, and has been able to seamlessly keep their tradition of domination alive.

Tampori served under Chris Agostino, who left the school left last year for Elmont Memorial High School as the school’s new athletic director.

“I’ve known the players, some of them are three- or four-year varsity players,” Tampori said in a phone interview. “They knew me as well. I knew what I was stepping into. I knew exactly what was going on.”

The transition appears to be just as easy for the players, as the team is currently undefeated in the league and look to be in a great spot in the Suffolk County playoffs, which kick off this Friday.

John Tampori has been with the Harborfields Tornadoes for more than a decade. Photo from Tampori
John Tampori has been with the Harborfields Tornadoes for more than a decade. Photo from Tampori

Tampori said he didn’t want to bring too many changes in as the new coach.

“When things are working, you don’t want to change too much,” he said. However, after losing the Suffolk County A Championship last year, he said he wanted to focus on improving shot selection on offense.

“Playing smarter was a thing I had in mind going into this season,” Tampori said. According to the head coach, that included working the ball into a shot that players are more capable of making, and better time management of the game clock.

Harborfields Athletic Director John Valente said Tampori has exceeded expectations.

“Coach John Tampori had some big shoes to fill when Chris Agostino left,” Valente said in an email. “Coach Tampori has stupendous knowledge of the game and knows all the right buttons to push for the team and players to reach all their goals this season. I couldn’t be prouder of the job he has done this season taking over from a successful coach who he served as an assistant coach to for six years. This is now Coach Tampori’s basketball program.”

For this season, Tampori said the starting five are all very special players, and have really contributed to how successful this season has been.

“They all play super hard in practice and get each other better,” he said of the five, who include seniors Alex Bloom, Dan Morgan, Malcolm Wynter and Robert Pecorelli, and junior Alex Merhige.

For what he enjoys the most about coaching the team, he says it comes down to the type of boys they are.

“We’ve always had really good students — as far as their grades — and they must come from really good families, because they’re all very respectful, polite, and just solid, good young men,” Tampori said. “Even when they get off the bus, they say thank you to the bus driver. That’s a little thing, but it still shows who they are.”

As far as the next few weeks and the Suffolk County Championship, Tampori doesn’t like to look too far ahead.

“I just talk about one game at a time,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to look ahead and forget what’s in front of us.”

Aside from boys’ basketball team, Tampori is a special education teacher at the high school, and also coaches boys’ and girls’ junior varsity tennis teams in the fall.

“I enjoy the faculty and the type of students you have,” he said of teaching at Harborfields. “You get really nice kids, they respond to what you have to say to them, it’s a nice environment to work in.”