For the first time since they heard the terrible news, the Southold First Settlers stepped onto a basketball court to play a game on Tuesday in Port Jefferson. They did so with heavy hearts and a lump in their throats.
It was an important game for Southold, but the game itself took a backseat to the sad circumstances surrounding it. The First Settlers were without their late, beloved coach, Phil Reed. Reed’s death last week at the age of 59 sent shock waves throughout the North Fork community and beyond. It hit his players hard.
After Port Jefferson’s three seniors were recognized in a senior day ceremony before the game, players bowed their heads as a moment of silence was observed in Reed’s memory. Then Port Jefferson coach Keith Buehler placed a white rose on an unoccupied seat on the Southold bench, the seat closest to the scorer’s table. That is where Reed would have sat.
Jeff Ellis, the former Southold coach who stepped forward to become the team’s interim coach for the remainder of the season, told reporters afterward that he had to fight back tears a number of times.
It wasn’t an easy game for the First Settlers to play, and the result — a 44-42 defeat — was tough as well. The loss eliminated the First Settlers from playoff contention.
In their last two games under Reed, the First Settlers had upset Pierson and Bridgehampton to keep their playoff hopes alive. However, they needed to win their final three regular-season games in order to reach the postseason. The first of those was Tuesday’s loss.
A controversial basket interference call right before the buzzer ending the first half led to 2 points being awarded to Port Jefferson’s Brian Mark. Ellis and the First Settlers objected to the call, claiming a Port Jefferson player had touched the rim.
Those 2 points would have come in handy later in a defensive game that saw neither team shoot well. Their field-goal percentages were basically identical, both a sliver over 29 percent.
Port Jefferson (4-12, 3-7 Suffolk County League VIII) took the lead for the first time since the game’s early moments when John McLaughlin made a putback off his own miss for a 29-27 edge late in the third quarter. It was part of a 15-2 charge by the Royals that put them ahead, 38-29.
A layup by Southold’s Gus Klavas with 14.2 seconds left to play made it a 4-point game at 43-39. Following a Mark free throw, Southold’s Pat McFarland dropped in a 3-point shot right before the game-ending buzzer.
Mark hit three 3-pointers as part of a 16-point performance. McLaughlin also turned in a strong game for the Royals, with 10 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
Port Jefferson kept a tight rein on McFarland, closing a double-team on him whenever he had the ball in his hands. McFarland shot 3 of 7 from the field and had 9 points to go with 9 rebounds.
Klavas produced 14 points and 9 rebounds. Aidan Walker contributed 10 points and Noah Mina had 8 assists to go with 6 points for Southold (6-9, 3-7).
During Ellis’ first stint with the team, the First Settlers went 154-124 under him and reached the playoffs in 11 of his 14 seasons running the team. He coached Southold to the New York State Class C semifinals for the first time in team history in 2006. The previous season the First Settlers won their first county and Long Island championships in at least 57 years.
The First Settlers have two regular-season games remaining, on Friday at home against Shelter Island and on Monday at Greenport. Before Friday’s senior night game, a pregame presentation will be made to the Reed family.
Photo caption: Southold’s Pat McFarland leads a charge down the court while being chased by Port Jefferson’s John McLaughlin (20) and Thomas Mark (5). (Credit: Garret Meade)