The mighty have officially fallen.
The Commack Boys Basketball team did something nobody had been able to do so far this season – beat the Bulls of Smithtown High School West.
Led by senior guard Mike Gitz, the Cougars dominated the 4th quarter outscoring the Bulls 24-15, in what had been a tight game through three. The final was 68-57.
Gitz had 12 points in that final period, and it was the second time in two games that Commack dominated a 4th quarter to prevail against a quality league opponent. The Cougars beat the Northport Tigers 62-55 last Saturday in what was also a tight game until late.
With the win, Commack pulls into a tie for first place with Smithtown West, widely regarded as one of the top teams on Long Island, both with records of 10-1 in Conference I play. After dropping their opener to Bay Shore six weeks ago, the Cats have now won 10 in a row.
“The kids really executed the game plan tonight and hit some big shots,” said Commack Head Coach Peter Smith. “This was the first of four road games for us in what will be a tough stretch and I’m glad we started it with a huge win.”
Huge was the theme of the night, and herculean the task of containing Smithtown West Center Patrick Burke, who is 6 feet, 8 inches tall. Burke averages 20 points a game. Commack played a defense by committee against Burke with Cougar power forward Ethan Meisel in the role of committee chair.
“I went out there expecting a battle,” Meisel said. “I just kept focusing on keeping him (Burke) out of the paint. I watched a lot of film leading up to this game to learn what moves he would be looking to make and that helped me in stopping him.”
Burke had 19 points but only three in the 4th quarter.
“Ethan did a great job on Patrick,” Smith said. “But I think we played great help defense tonight, bringing over an off guard to try and keep him bottled up.”
Also bottled up, at least in the 1st half, was Cougar junior guard Nick Waga. Not because of great defense by the Bulls, but because he picked up two early fouls and Smith decided to let him sit.
But the fiery Waga started the 2nd half with a bang. With West leading 26-23, he came off a backdoor curl to hit a corner three and tie the game just 10 seconds into the 3rd quarter. That hoop was his first points of the game.
Waga would finish with 12 points in the quarter, the last three of which coming on a buzzer-beating three pointer to give Commack a 44-42 lead heading into the deciding fourth. He started and ended the period the same way — with long range bombs.
“I had fresh legs and wanted to bring a bunch of energy,” said the 6 foot, 1 inch tall Waga, whose black and blonde wavy coif make him easy to spot on the court. “My teammates motivated me not to put my head down when I was sitting in the first half and we all kept pushing each other to get this win.”
As it was Waga who had fresh legs in the third, it was Gitz who caught fire in the fourth. He hit a runner in the lane to start the period and on the next possession faked out his defender Lorenzo Rappa so badly that Rappa flew in the opposite direction and was absorbed by pick-setting Cougar Chris McHugh, as Gitz casually hit a wide-open three.
It gave the Cougars a seven-point lead and this move, that drew “oohs” and “aahs” from both Cougar and Bull fans alike, might have been the death blow to Smithtown West’s dreams of an undefeated season. With six and a half minutes remaining, the Bulls called a timeout as the buzz of the crowd was still loud enough to drown out West’s pep band.
“I work on that move a lot,” said Gitz, who led all scorers with 21. “I try to use jabs and pump fakes to get the defenders off balance. It was great to hear the crowd after making that play and both the basket and the crowd was a big swing of momentum for us.”
The momentum would stay with Commack, as West would never recover. The Cougar lead ballooned to 14 with three minutes remaining in the game when Gitz drove past Rappa in the lane for a layup.
The rest of the game rendered a formality, Commack gladly went to the free throw line to seal it, and for the second straight game, they closed out a quality conference foe and arch enemy.
“We stay true to our game plan and execute down the stretch,” said Gitz on his team’s ability finish off opponents. “Plus, I think we want it more.”
Now the Cougars truly have what they wanted – a victory over the number one ranked team in Suffolk County and first place in the league with six games to go. Is he thinking about meeting the Bulls in playoffs next month?
“We are going to enjoy this win tonight and focus on West Islip on Thursday,” Smith said. “The ship keeps on going forward and you hope for the best.”
On this night, Smith and his Cougars not only beat the best, but now find themselves in a position to merit consideration as the best.