On an electric Friday evening on Sachem North’s court, the Sachem East boys basketball team experienced the best of times, and the (somewhat) worst of times. Fortunately for East, they saved their best half for last.
Needing to win the remainder of its schedule in order to qualify for a League I playoff spot, East could do no better than 22 first-half points against winless North. Trailing 33–22 entering the second half, junior Joe Santarpia took matters into his own hands, scoring 19 of his game-high 26 points in the second half, as East (5-7 in League I) defeated North (0-10) 53–43.
“We had some nerves early,” Santarpia said. “It was a big game and we needed to calm down.”
The last time these teams faced each other, it was over early, as East jumped out to a 36–12 halftime lead and coasted to a 66 – 38 final. So with a chance at redemption, North played hard, energizing the packed gym, already fueled by the rivalry.
“It’s really fantastic to have a sister school that we play, that creates a circus-type atmosphere like this,” North coach Tommy Mullee said.
Whether it was East’s nerves, North’s aggressive play, or a combination, things did not go well early for East. North jumped out to an early 8–2 lead when Jack Gannon’s three-pointer found net, and they extended the lead to 17–7 at the end of the first quarter. Late in the first quarter, East had a chance to close the deficit when Santarpia came down court on what should have been an easy lay up. But the ball rolled out, and Tim Raftice’s uncontested follow also missed.
North extended their lead before halftime, when Malik Pierre and Gannon hit both made their two-shot fouls. East was seeing its faint playoff hopes slipping away.
“We didn’t play our best, but that’s really about how [North] played,” East coach John Finta said. “They did a good job on us. They packed us in and made us make three’s. And we didn’t in the first half.”
With East trailing 33–22 at halftime, Santarpia took over. His strong drive to the basket cut North’s lead to 37–28. Moments later, AJ Tavantzis hit a three, and Santarpia hit another. The quarter ended with North clinging to a 39–34 lead.
“I reminded our players at halftime that if we lose, we’re out [of playoff contention],” Finta said. “And our kids really responded and played tough.”
Danny Wolff’s reverse scoop lay up on East’s first possession of the fourth pulled them to within three, and another Santarpia three tied the score at 39 with 6:54 left.
“I was getting shots, and it got me going,” Santarpia said. “Tonight was the start of our playoffs. We know we have to keep winning.”
Shaun Madsen converted an inside feed, giving East their first lead at 43–41 with 4:12 left, it got the visiting fans going too. There was little the East faithful had to cheer about through much of the game, as North’s defense clamped down on East. But in the fourth, it was all East. When Randall Colson put an exclamation point on a 19–4 fourth-quarter scoring differential with a one-handed slam, the East fans erupted, and the North fans started for the exits.
“We’ve been on the losing end of a number of close games,” Mullee said. “I think that speaks to the lack of game experience in our starting positions.”
So while North plays out its season, East takes aim at its next opponent, Commack, who they host next Tuesday. East lost 54–43 in their earlier meeting.1 2 3 4 F Sachem East 7 15 12 19 53 Sachem North 17 16 6 4 43
Individual Scoring Leaders: East ... Joe Santarpia 26, Randall Colson 12; North ... Lou Ferrari 11, Danny Urbanski 9, Alex Galdamez 8.