A lesser team might have collapsed with the rash of injuries the Southold High School boys basketball team has experienced, but not the First Settlers. That’s not to say they didn’t shake their heads with incredulity at times, but they haven’t given up.
Just six games into the season, Southold suffered injuries to five players. That includes regular starters and occasional starters.
Ouch! That hurts.
Yet, considering all of that, with Southold’s 61-44 home win over visiting Smithtown Christian Thursday, the Settlers are 3-3 overall, 2-0 in Suffolk County League VIII. Under healthier circumstances, coach Lucas Grigonis likes to think his team might have been 6-0.
Still, all in all, the Settlers have weathered the storm fairly well.
Nick Carr, Nick Grathwohl, John Kaelin, Jaishaun McRae and Steven Russell have all been, or still are, injured. Grigonis preferred not to detail the injuries.
Russell, arguably the team’s best player, made his first return to game action since getting injured in a season-opening loss Nov. 21 at Westhampton Beach. The senior small forward had six points and two rebounds in about six minutes of action off the bench. Meanwhile, Kaelin and McRae remain injured and didn’t play Thursday.
“Unprecedented,” Grigonis said of the injury hit his team has suffered. “I’ve never had a situation like this. I’ve never been in a situation like this where you have that many injuries at the beginning of the season. The only good thing is that it is in the beginning of the season. The kids are getting antsy and they want to get back to playing, but we’re trying to give them the necessary time period to rest and heal before reaggravating an injury.”
It can be tricky trying develop chemistry and flow with a lineup that is continually changing because of injuries.
“I’ve really been surprised how we can put any lineup in and it fits and works,” said Grathwohl.
Shooting guard Nick DeNicola said: “I think we adapted well to it. It’s part of this game. Injuries happen and you just got to do what you can do to prevent them and deal with them.”
DeNicola, a junior, started Thursday alongside four seniors — Cole Brigham, Nick Eckhardt, Carr and Grathwohl. With 10 seniors and 26 seasons of varsity experience on the 14-player roster, Southold sees itself as a team that can do some good things this season.
“I feel like we’re in a good place,” Brigham said. “We definitely could have started off better, but we definitely proved that we’re playing hard and we’re making do with what we have. We’ve been improving every single day and as long as we finish the season good, that’s what we want.”
After falling behind 5-0 early, Southold charged back with nine straight points and never surrendered the lead after that. An 8-0 Smithtown Christian burst pulled the Knights within 20-19, but Southold responded with a 12-0 spurt, half of those points coming from DeNicola.
Grathwohl scored seven of his game-high 22 points in the third quarter when Southold outscored the Knights, 21-12. “We came out in the third quarter on a nice run right out of half and then just never dropped it,” said Grathwohl, who added 10 points in the fourth quarter.
While Southold shot a sizzling 8-for-10 from the field in the third quarter, Smithtown Christian struggled in the face of Southold’s gritty defense, making only 4 of 20 shots.
DeNicola finished with 15 points and four assists. Brigham had 11 points, nine rebounds, five steals and four assists.
Smithtown Christian, which dropped to 2-3, 1-1, received a double-double from Gabe Gibson (14 points, 12 rebounds). Joshua Mangum added 13 points and Denmark Simon turned in an all-around game with 10 points, seven rebounds, seven steals, one assist and one block before fouling out with 2 minutes, 17 seconds left in the game. He was assessed a technical foul after picking up his fifth personal foul.
Asked for his assessment of Southold’s play, Grigonis said: “A bit unorganized, but I’m happy with the result. At the end of the day, they’re grinding out wins now and starting to show what we’re capable of rather than just settling for less.”
Southold would have made its life easier if it had done better than 12-for-24 from the foul line. But the Settlers did shoot 47.1 percent from the field to Smithtown Christian’s 23.3 percent.
For Southold, though, the biggest plus of the evening was that there was no subtraction: None of the Settlers got injured. That’s no small relief.
Photo caption: Nick Grathwohl, who scored a game-high 22 points for Southold, driving past Smithtown Christian’s Gabe Gibson. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)