WHALERS 61, FIRST SETTLERS 39
Winston Wilcenski, arguably the best player in League VIII and one of the best in Suffolk County, is no longer a member of the Southold High School boys basketball team.
“He’s no longer with us,” Southold coach Jeff Ellis told The Suffolk Times in an interview Friday night.
Ellis declined to get into specifics about the senior guard’s separation from the team. “We’re just going to keep it as an internal matter,” he said. “We’re moving on.”
Ellis said the break between Wilcenski and the team occurred following Southold’s 56-50 loss in Greenport on Tuesday night. The coach said he wasn’t surprised by the situation. Wilcenski didn’t play in the season-opening game last month because of what Ellis also referred to as an “internal matter” at the time.
The First Settlers lose an undoubted talent in Wilcenski.
“He’s a good player,” Ellis said. “He’s a 25-point-a-game player. He’s one of the top players in the county. Life throws some curveballs at you, and we have to stay the course and focus on what we got to do as a team.”
Now, midway through the season, Southold is, in a sense, starting over again.
“I think our team is a new team now because Winston’s gone now,” Southold guard Kyle Clausen said. “It’s definitely going to be a huge adjustment and I think every game will be a building block.”
In Southold’s first game without Wilcenski on Friday night, Pierson thrashed the First Settlers, 61-39, at Southold High School.
Pierson, a team without any big-name players like Wilcenski, has a bunch of good players who work well together. It’s the sort of team the “new” First Settlers would like to emulate.
“That’s going to be our goal for the end of the season, to just be like Pierson because they move the ball around, play really hard, up in your face defense,” Clausen said. “That’s what we want to be.”
Southold got a good look at improved Pierson (6-5, 5-2), which received points from nine players and 32 points from its bench. Jake Bennett scored 11 points and Jackson Marienfeld added 10 for the Whalers.
The Whalers closed out the first half on a 13-2 run and then scored the first 9 points of the third quarter for a commanding 42-17 advantage. Patrick Sloane scored all 7 of his points during that third-quarter spurt.
“We hit a surge, and then we kind of just took off,” Pierson coach Dan White said. “We just took it to them, and we didn’t take the foot off the gas. We kept pushing and pushing and pushing.”
With point guard Ian Barrett (9 assists) running the offense, Pierson played a complete game and controlled the paint, as evidenced by a 38-25 rebounding edge. Its defense limited Southold (3-7, 3-3) to 36.4-percent field-goal shooting. The First Settlers shot 1 of 8 in the second quarter.
“Defense and ball pressure,” said Barrett.
In completing the first half of its league schedule, Pierson finds itself in the enviable position of needing only two more league wins to reach the playoffs for the first time in three years.
“I have kids who have a passion to compete, to play the game and to have fun succeeding with each other,” White said. “No one cares about who scores the most. They’re all about the same talent-wise, so it’s just, ‘Let’s get a win,’ and I’m very fortunate to have kids like that. There are no selfish attitudes.”
Clausen led all scorers with 14 points. No other Southold player had more than 4 points. Liam Walker, a freshman, started in Wilcenski’s place, but Ellis said he was still unsure how the reconfigured lineup will look.
“We got to stay united and just stay the course,” said Ellis.
Asked how his players have handled the situation, Ellis said: “They’re dealing very well with it. They want to be together. They want to be a team. They want to focus on getting better, and I think they’re in a good place mentally. It’s going to be tough. We know it’s going to be tough, but we’re going to get through it.”