As one of Southold’s four seniors, Mario Contreras’ inclusion in the starting lineup Monday night was more sentimental than anything else. It was Senior Night, after all, at Southold High School.
By the time all was said and done, though, Contreras had put his own signature on the Suffolk County League VIII boys basketball game against Smithtown Christian.
Contreras, a senior shooting guard with only one previous season of basketball experience as an eighth-grader, is a little-used fan favorite. That was obvious in the first quarter when he delighted the home fans by sinking a foul shot and later making a layup off his own steal.
But the best was yet to come for Contreras. Late in the fourth quarter he made a steal and knocked down a jumper. Then, with the final seconds of a blowout counting down, Zach Grathwohl dribbled before firing a pass to Contreras in the corner. Contreras let the three-point attempt fly at the buzzer and it went in, putting the finishing touch to a 75-47 Southold rout.
Contreras, who was swarmed by teammates afterward, said, “I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”
Fans and teammates were delighted for Contreras, who finished with eight points, three rebounds, three steals and one assist.
“He was incredible,” said Southold sophomore forward Steven Russell, who was incredible in his own right, putting up a triple-double with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, five steals and one block. “You can not make that stuff up.”
Contreras made his first — and possibly only — career start, joining fellow seniors Jared Palumbo, Grathwohl, Jacob Dominy and Russell in the starting five. He said he learned of his starting assignment the night before and was nervous.
“It was just amazing playing out here with the crowd,” Contreras said. “It’s something more than just playing basketball.”
Southold coach Lucas Grigonis said Contreras, who is known more for his soccer-playing ability, has athleticism and mental toughness. “I know he can handle pressure,” Grigonis said. “He can handle a challenge.”
The victory was vital to Southold’s playoff chances. Grigonis called it a “crucial must win. We knew that we could compete with them and get a win tonight, and that was our only focus.”
Southold (4-12, 4-4) must split its remaining four games in order to qualify for the playoffs.
The First Settlers charged out to a 22-9 lead early in the second quarter and didn’t ever look in danger of losing it. They stretched their lead to as large as 32 points when a Dominy free throw made it 70-38 with 5 minutes, 22 seconds left to play.
Southold received 10 points from Nick Grathwohl, nine from Dominy and eight from Max Kruszeski.
Smithtown Christian (1-13, 1-6) was led by Josiah Fennelly with 12 points and Gabriel Gibson with nine.
Contreras showed some good stuff. It didn’t surprise Russell, who said: “He has some talent. We’ve seen him in practice sometimes, just flashes. We knew he had it in him.”
Contreras did send a three-point attempt off the back of the backboard, but he more than made up for it with his last-second shot.
“Unbelievable,” Russell said. “That was awesome.”
Contreras said that final shot was “like a cherry on top. It’s something special.”
Photo caption: Southold’s four seniors, from left: Jacob Dominy, Zach Grathwohl, Mario Contreras and Jared Palumbo. (Credit: Bob Liepa)