By Bill Landon
Ward Melville led from the opening tipoff, and despite a late push by Commack’s boys’ basketball team, which pulled within nine points late in the third quarter, the Patriots maintained the advantage and won 57-41. With the win, the Patriots remain tied atop the League I leaderboard.
The Patriots came out fast, and quickly jumped out to a 13-4 lead midway through the first quarter, prompting a Commack timeout. Ward Melville’s defense swarmed, looking as if there was an extra man on the court. The shot clock worked against the Cougars, which struggled to let the ball loose in time.
Ward Melville senior Noah Kepes had the hot hand early, scoring three three-pointers in the opening quarter, and classmate Dom Pryor pitched in two field goals and a three-pointer of his own, to help the Patriots to a 20-6 lead at the end of eight minutes.
Kepes said his team’s focus is always defense first.
“We’re just hungry on defense,” he said. “Everyday in practice we work on these drills — whoever’s on the floor first is going to get the ball first, so it’s that kind of the mentality. When they began to make their push coach told us they were going to do that, and how you react to that push is who’s going to come out with the win.”
Commack countered with four unanswered points, but again the shot clock expired, turning the ball over to the Patriots.
With just over three minutes left in the half, Commack senior Christian Volatile fell. Injured on the play, he sat out the remainder of the game.
Commack sophomore Aiden Keenan went the free-throw line shooting two and banked both points, but the Patriots answered back and then some, when senior Matt Hudzik drained a three, as Ward Melville edged ahead 25-14 by halftime.
The Patriots’ defense remained unrelenting. The Cougars still couldn’t get the ball to the rim, and turned the ball over as the 35-second shot clock expired.
Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said he likes what he saw.
“On the defensive end we communicated well, we rotated well, we switched on screens; so we did everything we needed to do on that end,” Piccirillo said. “We struggled offensively from time to time, every team will go on a scoring run, it’s how we weather it and how we stop it that’s important.”
The fouls began to eat up the final minutes of the third quarter, and momentum shifted Commack’s way.
Keenan sank four field goals and a pair of free throws, and with help from senior Ryan Donohue, who added four points, the Cougars pulled within nine, 37-28.
“Ward Melville’s a good team and they’ve got a lot of guys who can knock down the outside shot, so we tried to plan for that, but unfortunately, we left some guys open in the first half,” Commack head coach Peter Smith said. “We adjusted nicely in the second quarter. We did OK in the third, but their defense is very good.”
It would be as close a Commack would come.
At 6 feet, 7 inches, the big man for the Patriots, junior Alex Sobel, battled in the paint muscling his way to the rim, scoring three times. Sobel went to the charity stripe three times too, and never missed.
“We knew they’re a good team, especially the last two years,” Sobel said of Commack. “We came out strong and held a little gap. We got a little worried when they got close in third quarter, but we picked it up and closed the game out strong.”
Hudzik hit a field goal, Pryor swished a three-pointer and sophomore Ray Grabowski banked a field goal along with a free-throw point to close out the scoring for the Patriots.
With the win, Ward Melville improves to 9-2 overall and 5-0 in league play, sharing the top spot with Brentwood.
Sobel topped the scoreboard for the Ward Melville with 20 points and Kepes tacked on 15. Keenan led the scoring for Commack with 12 points and Donohue finished with nine.
With the loss, Commack drops to 5-5 overall and 1-4 in the league.
“We’ll put this game behind us quickly,” Smith said. “We have practice tomorrow and we have to rebound. We need to get a home win against Pat-Med.”
Commack hosts Patchogue-Medford Jan. 12 at 5:45 p.m. Ward Melville will travel to William Floyd Jan. 13. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.