Take a very inexperienced team and match it up against a very undefeated team, and you could have a recipe for disaster from the very inexperienced team’s standpoint.
Yet, Sunday’s non-league high school boys basketball game for Southold (the very inexperienced team) was hardly a disaster, its one-sided loss aside.
Southold was competitive for the first quarter and a half and battled hard throughout its 57-33 loss at Port Jefferson. Here’s the thing to keep in mind about the First Settlers: Their three seniors are their only returning players from last season’s Suffolk County Class C championship squad. Southold’s current 10-player roster has an average 1.3 years of varsity experience.
So, throw the win-loss record out the window. Game-by-game improvement is what matters most for Southold this season.
“Honestly, one of the first things I said to them at the beginning of all this was to focus on player growth, chemistry and just trying to get back in shape,” coach Lucas Grigonis said. “So, wins and losses don’t matter to me this year.”
Odd as that may sound, there is logic associated with it. The First Settlers, who lost for the fourth time in six games Sunday, have to look ahead to their future, beyond the graduations of seniors Jaishaun McRae, Nick DeNicola and John Kaelin.
Southold didn’t ride away from Port Jefferson with a “W”, but the Settlers believe they took something out of the game.
“You learn things from the teams that are better than you,” said McRae.
Southold faced a daunting opponent in Port Jefferson, which raised its overall record to 7-0. The Royals had defeated Southold in a League VIII game early in the season.
What makes Port Jefferson so good?
Well, in a quick two-word answer: Drew Feinstein.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard has some game. That was on display as he burned Southold for what Port Jefferson coach Pete Meehan termed an “unselfish” 33 points, draining three three-pointers and taking the ball to the hoop.
“He’s obviously a special player,” Meehan said. “He’s obviously a weapon, but what I like best about him is he makes everyone around him better.”
That was particularly apparent during the final minutes when Feinstein turned in the highlight of the day. Dribbling along the baseline and away from the basket, he executed a brilliant over-the-head, no-look pass to Steven Bayer for an easy layup.
Southold hung with Port Jefferson for a while. Two McRae free throws cut the Royals’ lead to 20-16 with 4 minutes, 14 seconds left in the second quarter. But then Feinstein continued making his imprint. Feinstein, who also had 11 rebounds and five steals, registered seven points in a 9-2 run, eight points in an 11-3 spurt and seven points in an 11-0 surge that opened the third quarter.
Port Jefferson shot 45.7% from the field (17 of 36 through the first three quarters) and had eight players make it into the scoring column. Southold shot 32.5% for the game.
“This team was in League VII for the last three years,” Meehan said of Port Jefferson, which clinched a playoff spot Friday. “This team hadn’t won a league game since 2018. They had 29 straight league losses, so let’s be honest, the biggest change has been the bump down to a league that we belong in. And we have great kids that work hard.”
Cal Karsten, a 6-3 junior, led Southold with 10 points while Nick DeNicola and McRae added eight each.
Asked if he felt the odds were stacked against his team, Karsten replied: “I never feel like that, personally. Like, this whole year has just kind of been a learning experience for everyone, but I find it fun when we go against the harder teams.”
Last year Southold won its fourth county championship and first since 2006. A loss to East Rockaway in the Long Island final closed the door on a 14-10 season. The Settlers hope games like that await them in the coming years.
Meehan, a former longtime Hampton Bays coach in his 36th year of coaching basketball, has been enjoying these three weeks coaching his alma matter.
“I’m just having the time of my life,” he said before a postgame Senior Day ceremony for his only senior, Massimo Cipriano. “I wish it was going to last longer, but you know what, it looked like there wasn’t going to be anything.”