STONY BROOK — Regardless who Southold plays in the first round of the Suffolk County Class C boys basketball tournament, junior guard Winston Wilcenski knows the First Settlers will face a formidable challenge whether it be Greenport or The Stony Brook School.
While Wilcenski said they were “beatable,” he admitted, “I wouldn’t want to play any of them.”
On Monday, the First Settlers were reminded how difficult their task will be in a 53-36 League VIII loss to Stony Brook.
Wilcenski did his best to hold off the Bears (13-2, 12-1) with 23 points, but his production was more than equaled by Stony Brook senior guard Tim Pandolfi, who fired home 25 points.
The First Settlers (9-8, 7-6) will know their opponents Wednesday night when Greenport takes on Stony Brook for the league title. Southold is expected to play the winner.
If Greenport is the opponent, that would be fine with Southold Coach Jeff Ellis. The First Settlers won at Greenport, 49-45, on Feb. 1.
“Once we get there, anything can happen,” he said. “We’re really tight with each other. There’s a chance that matchup could happen or we might be coming back to Stony Brook. As we all know, we always end up seeing each other three times. It’s always tough. The third time, everything is laying on the line.”
After playing Stony Brook in a 44-40 home loss earlier this season, the First Settlers entered Monday’s game optimistic they could pull off a road upset.
But Pandolfi, the leading scorer on Long Island at 27.5 points a game, and the Bears had other ideas. He made eight steals, thwarting several Southold comebacks.
“It’s no surprise he’s the leading scorer on Long Island,” Stony Brook Coach Mike Hickey said. “It’s not just offense. We played at Bridgehampton the other night. He had 10 steals. They shut him out in the third quarter. Interestingly, we actually increased our lead in the third quarter and he never scored a point.
“It’s a testament to him deferring at times. But he also knows when it’s crunch time, when the shot clock is going down, the ball should be in his hands. He’s been a tremendous performer from the time he was a sophomore, doing that kind of thing.”
Pandolfi was clutch, whether he was hitting a basket after dribbling coast-to-coast or sinking a three-point shot. While he spaced out his scoring — connecting for six, six, six and seven points — in the four quarters, Pandolfi struck for key baskets.
After Southold crept to within 15-12 with 4 minutes 43 seconds left in the second period, Pandolfi hit a three-pointer with 4:04 remaining. Only 21 seconds later, he culminated a three-point play, sinking a foul shot after a driving basket for a 21-12 lead.
“He’s tough,” Ellis said. “He can do it all. It will be nice to see him out of the league and that’s respectfully, I mean that. He’s been a great player for many years, has hurt us for many years. It will be nice to come to Stony Brook next year and not have to game-plan against him.”
Wilcenski, who got off to a slow start, did not convert his first basket until 2:03 was left in the opening period. He made up for it in a scintillating, 13-point second quarter, scoring all but one of Southold’s points.
“If you’ve seen our team play, you would know he’s our team,” Ellis said. “He’s a scorer and he can play and I think he really tried to carry the team on his back tonight. It just wasn’t enough, even though he had a great game.”
Wilcenski and Southold went cold in the third quarter as they were outscored, 12-4. It seemed every time Southold was in a position to make a serious run, it would throw the ball away or miss a key shot.
“Once we went on a little run our minds checked out of the game,” Wilcenski said. “Then they went on a run. We couldn’t keep that steady pace that we wanted. We would have spurts, good defense spurts and offense. Then they made a basket and our heads went down.”