Boys Basketball: Seniors lead Southold in must-win game

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Matt Stepnoski, who scored 11 of Southold's points, tries aerial acrobatics to get to the basket.


Never underestimate the power of Senior Night.

It can be a mighty motivating force for a high school player, and yet, the Southold boys basketball team had plenty of other motivation in its tank on Monday night. Facing a must-win game, the First Settlers did just that.

Winston Wilcenski drained five 3-point field goals and scored 25 points, Alex Sinclair struck for a career-high 20 points, and Southold struck down rival Greenport, 73-60, in a Suffolk County League VIII game at Southold High School.

Wilcenski and Sinclair were honored along with the team’s two other seniors, Kyle Clausen and Will Fujita, in a pregame Senior Night ceremony.

Speaking of his team’s final home regular-season game, Sinclair said the First Settlers were “just energized and pumped. Coach [Jeff] Ellis told us this was going to be the last time we were going to run out of the locker room, and we took it to heart.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Gavin Dibble of Greenport totaled 23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals against Southold.

And yet, there was more to this game for Southold. The uncle of one of the Southold players, Pete DiCandia, died over the weekend. The First Settlers played in his memory.

“We had someone upstairs watching us,” said Sinclair.

Southold (6-11, 6-7) hopes to retain all the positive energy it can for its final regular-season game on Wednesday night. It needs to defeat Pierson in Sag Harbor in order to earn a playoff berth.

“It was win or go home,” Sinclair said. “We want Wednesday to mean something.”

The First Settlers lost to Pierson earlier this season, but they were without Wilcenski in that one. Since his return to the team following a four-game absence attributed to an “internal matter,” the senior guard has been a force. He was on fire Monday, knocking down 7 of 12 shots from the field, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range. Wilcenski was twice fouled while attempting 3-pointers and made all six of those free throws.

“He makes the team,” Greenport coach Al Edwards said. “He’s a star player.”

And yet, as much as he helped, Monday’s result wasn’t a Wilcenski-only production. Southold turned in a fine all-around game, with wonderful ball movement.

“Winston was hitting shots, but it just wasn’t about him hitting shots,” Ellis said. “He moved the ball. He got everyone involved. It wasn’t just him trying to take everyone on.”

The energetic Matt Stepnoski provided Southold with 11 points and Clausen had 10. Fujita hit the boards for 8 rebounds. David O’Day had 6 assists. Ellis called it the best team basketball Southold has played this season.

“Everyone got a touch on the ball,” Sinclair said. “If they had an open shot they took it or they passed the ball. We played as a team. We played very good defense, and that’s the Southold way.”

Southold went on a 9-for-13 shooting spree in the second quarter when it outscored Greenport, 26-10, and forged a 37-19 halftime lead. The result was never really in doubt after that, partially because of Southold’s 55.3-percent shooting from the field and its 39-22 advantage in rebounds.

The loss was a tough one for Greenport (11-6, 9-4), which saw its league title chances dented with the loss. Heading into the game, the second-place Porters trailed The Stony Brook School by one game in the standings.

Greenport senior guard Sean Charters sounded concerned. “I want a league championship my senior year, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen right now,” he said. “We needed that win a lot. You can tell by the guys’ emotions, they’re down a lot.”

Edwards said, “It’s always nice to have a chance to win the league, but hey, if the chips don’t fall the right way, what are you going to do?” He added, “They had more on the line than we did, as far as making the playoffs, and they came through in the clutch.”

Greenport received 23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals from Gavin Dibble. Charters was responsible for 15 points and 9 assists. Matt Dibble added 12 points.

With 1 minute 4 seconds left in the game, Southold’s four seniors were substituted for and applauded as they headed to the bench, to be congratulated by their coach and teammates. They had done their part to take Southold’s playoff hopes to one final regular-season game.

“Nothing’s going to stop us,” Sinclair said. “We’re not letting off the gas pedal.”

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