Kevin Santacroce stood motionless, holding his hands out with a befuddled look on his face, as if trying to figure out what he had done wrong. The 6-foot-3 senior had just been charged with his fifth personal foul. That meant his night was done, and Bishop McGann-Mercy had to play the remaining 3 minutes 13 seconds of its home-opening basketball game without him.
Uh-oh. That could have spelled trouble for the Monarchs.
To their credit, though, it didn’t.
The Monarchs hardly seemed to skip a beat with Santacroce on the bench. Moments before Santacroce fouled out, Joe Jeskie had drained a 3-point shot, spotting the Monarchs a 41-34 lead over Southold. Shortly after, baskets by Southold’s Aidan Walker and Aiden Vandenburgh sliced McGann-Mercy’s lead to 4 points. The Monarchs, however, sank seven of eight free throws in the final 43.1 seconds to wrap up a 49-40 non-league victory on Thursday night.
The result had to be a confidence boost for the Monarchs (2-1), who saw that they can close out a game with one of their best players on the bench.
The game had added meaning for one of Southold’s starters, Greg Gehring. The senior had played for McGann-Mercy for two seasons before transferring to Southold following his sophomore year.
Before the opening tipoff, Gehring wore a deadly serious look on his face. After the game, there was a tinge of disappointment. Gehring indicated displeasure with the result and his shooting performance. His shot selection was good, but they weren’t falling the way he would have liked. He shot 1 of 10 from the field, including seven attempted 3-pointers. He made one of those to finish with 3 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block.
The First Settlers (1-1), coming off a season-opening, double-overtime triumph at Comsewogue, faced a determined defense by the Monarchs. Both teams played hard-nosed defense, which explains the low shooting percentages. While the Southolders shot 32.6 percent from the floor, the Monarchs shot 28.8 percent.
Afterward, while talking to reporters, McGann-Mercy’s new head coach, Kevin O’Halloran, lamented 15 missed layups by his team in the first half.
But the Monarchs did a better job of taking care of the ball, conceding 10 turnovers to Southold’s 25.
The Monarchs rely heavily on the experienced trio of Nick Kneski, Jeskie and Santacroce. Not surprisingly, they all featured prominently. Kneski put up 16 points, 8 steals, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Jeskie led all scorers with 19 points. Santacroce had 12 rebounds and 6 points to his credit by the time he took his seat on the bench.
Pat McFarland was the high scorer for Southold with 14 points. Walker, who fouled out with 13.2 seconds left to play, had 10.
The First Settlers led for the entire first quarter before the Monarchs jumped ahead for a 19-17 edge by halftime.
Southold twice took the lead in the third quarter on baskets by Gus Klavas and Gehring, but Jeskie completed a 3-point play and then sank a basket after that to put the Monarchs ahead to stay, 30-28, late in the third quarter.
Photo Caption: Southold’s Pat McFarland and Bishop McGann-Mercy’s Joe Jeskie chase after a loose ball during Thursday night’s non-league game. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)