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Jon Agostino


By Bill Landon

Colin Powell once said “success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence,” and the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team has used dedication and determination to attain another success this season. On Feb. 13, the Bulls outscored Centereach 59-29 on senior night in the last game of the regular season to remain perfect, at 14-0, in League III.

Smithtown West’s seniors started the game off strong, despite four not seeing much playing time this year. Will Kass started the three-point flurry with a shot that gave the Bulls an early 8-0 lead, but Centereach junior forward Chris Witherspoon drained back-to-back 3-pointers to make it a two-point game with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter. Centereach would come no closer.

Even with a different starting five, the Bulls found their rhythm early. Juniors Chris Crespo and Michael Gannon, and senior Gordon Shouler added shots from beyond the arc to help Smithtown West take a 34-13 advantage into halftime. In total, Smithtown West had eight 3-pointers from six different players.

“Our effort is what won this,” Crespo said. “Our seniors gave 100 percent effort and we executed all game. I’m really just in awe as to how we played together as a team tonight.”

Centereach senior Josue Chery opened the third quarter with a trey of his own, to bring the score to 34-16, but Smithtown West’s defensive pressure was more than the Cougars could handle. That pressure keyed in mainly on senior Jon Agostino, who is usually a double-digit scoring threat. Smithtown West held its coach’s nephew to just three points.

“I thought the defense was the best part of our game tonight,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said.

The Bulls continued to bank 3-pointer after 3-pointer, as senior Justin Durcan, Crespo and Gannon swished their shots to break the game open at the end of the third.

“I was just happy that all of our guys got to play,” Gannon said. “We have four seniors who don’t play as much and it was fun to watch them play well.”

Durcan finished atop the scoring sheet with 14 points. Crespo followed with 11 points, Gannon added nine and senior Chris VanderBrink tacked on seven.

“I think coming out hot and confident — even though we’re not the regular starters — that’s what made us so comfortable,” Durcan said. “It’s our preparation. We work hard every day in practice even if we don’t see much playing time, and I think we work harder in practice than any team in our league, and that helped us today.”

The loss eliminated Centereach from postseason play. The Cougars finished the season with a 9-11 overall mark and 6-8 record in league play.

The Bulls, who clinched the league title with their win over Copiague on Feb. 2, finished with the best boys’ basketball record in the county, at 19-1. Only one other team, Center Moriches, finished undefeated in conference play.

Heading into the postseason on a 15-game winning streak, Crespo said his team will maintain it’s winning attitude.

“Once we know who we’ll play,” he said, “the coaches are going to show us the personnel, what they run and what we have to do to defeat them.”

But Durcan said his team will remain composed as the No. 4 Bulls prepare to host No. 13 Lindenhurst Feb. 18 at 1 p.m.

“We’ve just got to stay poised and don’t expect to win, but the county championship is what we’re shooting for,” Durcan said. “Even though we’re up there [in the rankings], we’ve got to stay humble and hopefully our games will speak for themselves.”

Smithtown West's Chris Crespo prepares to move the ball across the court around Centereach's Chris Witherspoon. Photo by Desirée Keegan

It’s raining “threes.”

A total 15 3-pointers swished through the netting on Centereach’s court Jan. 17. The Cougars got off to a hot start from long range thanks to senior Jon Agostino, who hit three of the first four treys in the game, but the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team only allowed Centereach to score one more after that in the Bulls’ 87-52 win.

Smithtown West’s Greg Giordano scores his first of three 3-pointers. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Coming off a big win over Copiague Jan. 10 — a 74-67 overtime victory after Chris Crespo tied the game at the fourth-quarter buzzer — the senior said his team has all the confidence in the world.

“It really boosted us as a team and I think we all got closer,” Crespo said. “We definitely bonded over that game. It was the first big test I think we’ve had. We played a few hard games against Half Hollow Hills West [the only loss this season but non-league] and St. Anthony’s, and we respect all those teams, but especially in a league game against Copiague it was a different atmosphere. I really felt good, and I feel we have a lot of confidence running through us for the rest of the season.”

That confidence showed against Centereach, as the Bulls — now on an eight-game win streak — built momentum throughout its total team success.

Agostino scored all four of his 3-pointers in the first half of the contest. He knocked down his first on the Cougars’ first possession, and added another at the 1:33 mark to tie the game 8-8. Smithtown West seniors Greg Giordano and Kyle LaGuardia scored a free throw and 3-pointer, respectively, to close out the scoring for the first eight minutes, leaving the Bulls up 12-8.

“In spite of our slow start in the first quarter, we were able to provide a strong second quarter and basically end the game in the third,” Giordano said. “It always amazes me how resilient we are and how we are able to get so many contributions.”

Three Bulls scored in the first, and two others contributed in the team’s 24-point second quarter.

Centereach’s Jon Agostino scores a 3-pointer. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“This was really a great game,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said. “Defensively, we played consistent, but I thought our ball movement was the difference. You could see when the ball moves, people get open and we knock down shots.”

Senior Gordon Shouler and junior Michael Gannon helped extend West’s lead to 36-20 by halftime.

Shouler tacked on two of his team-high four 3-pointers in the second, and added the other two in the third.

“Copiague is arguably one of the best teams in our league this year, and after getting a win coming from behind, getting out here and playing a good team, we were ready to go,” Shouler said. “We were very confident, and the biggest thing was just not having a letdown. You beat a team like that, you win a good game like that, you want to come out and carry that momentum, and we did that.”

Gannon added 11 points in the second, including a basket of his own from beyond the arc, and a pair of free throws. Giordano, who finished with a team-high 17 points, added two assists on Gannon’s scores.

“We perform with consistency,” Agostino said of his team. “We know who we are, we’ve won a lot of games the last couple of years and we’re confident. We know who we are and we’re going to play our way, and as hard and we’re going to play in a playoff game regardless of our opponent.”

The head coach said he was excited to see the team reach its offensive potential, finding the basket more than it has been. On days like that, he said he wishes he could play 11 players at a time, instead of five.

Smithtown West’s Kyle LaGuardia makes a layup. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“They all practice hard and they all work hard every day,” he said. “It’s good to get guys in. These guys are capable — they’re all capable. And when they get the time they’re going to be able to do big things with it.”

This is true for freshman Michael Behrens, who seized his opportunity off the bench in the fourth quarter and scored nine points to help put the game out of reach. Behind Giordano was Shouler with 14 points, and Gannon with 13.

Crespo, who finished with eight points, said he’s excited to see his Bulls playing team basketball.

“I have no complaints,” he said. “We moved the ball beautifully and we were knocking down shots. Gordon and Greg form the outside and Kyle and myself were finishing around the basket. We’re really, really coming together great and I have high hopes for the rest of the season if we keep this up.”

It’s the kind of mentality Agostino said he stresses to his players, about continuing to focus on executing plays and not letting the other team disrupt how they play. And the boys have bought into it, building on the win total with each season over the last few years.

“Coach always says just play your game and the rest will follow, and that’s exactly what we did,” Giordano said. “Our defense kept us in the lead until our offense was able to connect and build a big lead. I couldn’t be more excited about the way our team has progressed throughout the season, and feel like we have a chance to do something really special.”

Centereach senior Kevin Callahan drives the baseline around Ward Melville junior Dominic Pryor. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville junior Dominic Pryor reaches for the ball on a rebound. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville junior Dominic Pryor reaches for the ball on a rebound. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Centereach achieved something this season that hasn’t happened since 2010: they made it to the postseason. Not only did the boys’ basketball team make the playoffs, the No. 14 seed hosted No. 19 Ward Melville on its own home court. The Cougars were able to close within eight points midway through the final quarter, but that was the closest they would get, as the Patriots floored it in the final minutes to put the game away, 59-41.

Ward Melville stretched its legs early, and edged ahead 12-4 after eight minutes of play. The Patriots’ defense was swarming, blocking several shots.

While the Cougars struggled offensively, the Patriots found their 3-point range during the second quarter, with senior Mathew O’Hea netting one, and teammate Mathew Hudzik, a junior, swishing his second trey of the game, to put the team out front 22-13 at the halftime break.

Ward Melville opened the second half much like it did the first, with 3-pointers from O’Hea and Hudzik. Centereach countered when Kevin Callahan fouled from 3-point land. Despite thunderous calls from the visiting crowd, the senior swished all three attempts.

Centereach junior Jon Agostino drives the lane as he makes his way to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon
Centereach junior Jon Agostino drives the lane as he makes his way to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon

“We haven’t made it in a while — it’s a different mindset and it’s a big deal,” Callahan said. “It’s a big crowd and lot of people come out, so it’s a lot of pressure.”

Centereach senior Justin Eck also nailed a 3-point field goal, to make it a 10-point game with two minutes left in the third.

“We focused on this round just like we did with the in-season games,” Eck said. “We needed to focus on our game plan. … We focused on execution — we tried to stay loose and play our game.”

Centereach junior Jon Agostino hit his second 3-pointer to make it a nine point game, and both teams traded points before the Cougars, on a defensive steal, converted the opportunity to draw within eight points with 4:03 left in regulation.

“Tonight we fed off of our defensive energy,” Ward Melville head coach Alexander Piccirillo said. “We thrived on stops, or holding someone to just one shot or forcing a bad shot, and that translates to the offensive side of the ball.”

Hudzik executed his fifth trifecta of the evening to re-extend the Patriots’ lead, and with time running out, Centereach was forced to arrest the clock. The Cougars sent Hudzik to the line after a foul, and the junior went 6-for-6 from the charity stripe to put the game out of reach.

Centereach senior Justin Eck scores a layup while Ward Melville junior Mathew Hudzik reaches for the block. Photo by Bill Landon
Centereach senior Justin Eck scores a layup while Ward Melville junior Mathew Hudzik reaches for the block. Photo by Bill Landon

“We looked at the film from our loss to Commack [10 days ago] and we learned from that,” said Hudzik, who scored 21 points on the evening. “We did our best to do everything right that we did wrong in that game.”

According to Centereach head coach Ed Miller, having endured a long playoff drought, this season was a testament to the commitment of his Cougars senior leadership.

“They came out and shot the ball well, and you can’t take anything away from them,” he said of Ward Melville. “They made it very difficult to play against them. Alex does a great job over there and they’re in the right spots.”

Miller added that he was proud of his team, and admired their sense of urgency and the contribution each of them made this season.

“They’ve set the stage they laid the groundwork to get our program back to where we want to be,” he said. “I know the effort that they put into the off season, so it was my seniors that I was most impressed with.”

Ward Melville junior Noah Kepes said his team’s preparation for this game was the same as it was for the regular season, and will be for the rest of the postseason.

Ward Melville junior Mathew Hudzik scores one of his five 3-pointers. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville junior Mathew Hudzik scores one of his five 3-pointers. Photo by Bill Landon

“We tried to not get all in our heads, because it’s a playoff game,” he said. “We’ve been working on defensive slides every day in practice. Just the same thing we’ve been doing — it’s like any other game.”

The Patriots hit the road tomorrow, Feb. 13, to take on No. 3-seeeded Half Hollow Hills West, with tipoff scheduled for noon.

“We’ll get a film from somebody in their league, we’ll get a scouting report, we’ll get a good practice in tomorrow and then we’re going to get on the bus and go over there,” Piccirillo said. “We’re going to defend like crazy; we’re going to be ready for them, and I hope they’re ready for us.”