INDIANS 70, FIRST SETTLERS 63
Make room for the youngsters.
Suffolk County League VIII has some fine young basketball players who are making a name for themselves this season. Possibly the one with the longest name of them all, Matt BeltCappellino, may have shined the brightest of them all on Friday night.
BeltCappellino scored 19 first-half points before finishing with a career-high 29 for Shelter Island in its 70-63 defeat of host Southold. The junior bettered his previous game-high total by 8 points.
“The ball was just feeling good off my hand,” said BeltCappellino, who also had 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. “I was getting good shots. The team was getting me open. I was taking my time, following through, and it was going in.”
Meanwhile, Southold had a young player of its own putting up big numbers. Liam Walker, a sophomore, registered 24 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists for his side. A Southold senior, David O’Day, also produced 24 points.
Aside from the fact that BeltCappellino is a forward and Walker is a guard, the two players share some notable similarities. They both wear the same uniform number, 12, and they both have undoubted scoring ability. Like BeltCappellino, Walker recently turned in a career-high scoring total. In Southold’s previous game, a win over Smithtown Christian three days earlier, he scored 36 points.
“It’s a boost, yeah,” Walker said. “It’s more like a boost of confidence.” He added: “It felt like I can do that every game. I have to expect that out of myself more and more.”
Southold coach Phil Read said Walker struggled early in the season, but “he’s on now.”
As is BeltCappellino, whose efforts have helped put Shelter Island (5-6, 5-3) on a pace to reach the playoffs. In addition to being one of the top students in his class, he also has the basketball smarts and shooting ability that the Indians need.
“He’s not forcing it at all,” Shelter Island coach Mike Mundy said. “He’s only taking good shots. He’s getting good looks, and when he’s on, he’s on. He’s actually stepped up for us. In games where he needs to step up, he’ll step up.”
Friday night was one of those times.
Three days earlier, Shelter Island led Greenport for three quarters and most of the fourth before succumbing and losing. That loss, Mundy said, turned Friday night’s game into a “must win.” Every league game is precious as far as playoff implications are concerned.
Shelter Island led by as many as 19 points three times in the third quarter. Southold, however, worked its way back, pulling to within 6 points of Shelter Island during a 17-6 run in which O’Day scored 9 points. When O’Day nailed a 3-point shot from the top of the key, it made the score 66-60 with a little over 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“We’re not as talented as a lot of teams, but you know, we go out there every day and we give it our all,” Read said. “I can’t ask for more from any group of guys.”
Shelter Island secured the victory with two free throws each by Myles Clark and BeltCappellino down the stretch.
“We had a good first half, but the second half we let them crawl back in,” BeltCappellino said. “I give them credit. They’re a good, scrappy team. They hit some shots, but we got the last word.”
A big factor in the game was the rebounding department, where Shelter Island held a 40-25 advantage. Hunter Starzee (16 points, 16 rebounds) was a major contributor. Riley Willumsen had 8 assists for Shelter Island, which made good on 60 percent (24 of 40) of its field-goal attempts.
Southold (3-9, 2-6), which lost for the sixth time in seven games, received 11 assists from Kenji Fujita.
“I thought we worked really hard,” Walker said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well, but we still scored, but we have to key in on defense. Seventy points isn’t going to cut it. We should be winning games when we’re scoring over 60.”
But Southold’s better days are to come. The team is two losses away from being eliminated from playoff contention, but the future looks bright with sophomores like Shane Johnson, Alex Poliwoda and, of course, Walker.
Shelter Island’s future doesn’t look bad, either, with good-looking young players such as Matthew Dunning, BeltCappellino, Nathan Mundy and Willumsen. Dunning made his first career start in place of Mundy, the coach’s son.
“We have options,” Mike Mundy said. “Everybody knows their role, too. Nobody complains about their playing time. It’s what’s best for the team.”
And this is a team that could be going places, thanks a good deal to its young, up-and-coming players. Two wins from its final six league games would earn Shelter Island a coveted ticket to the postseason.
“We’re fulfilling our expectations,” BeltCappellino said. “We thought we could be in this position, which is right where we want to be.”