Well before the tip-off of Southold High School’s boy basketball game against Greenport on Friday night, Jack Sepenoski knew the contest was going to be special for him.
He just didn’t realize how special it turned out to be.
The junior guard wanted to honor the memory of his late friend and former teammate, Dylan Newman, who passed away on Sept. 20 after a four-year battle with a rare form of bone cancer. He was 18.
“This meant everything,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about Dylan ever since we came up with this idea and asked his parents if we could do it. I’ve just been marking my calendar. Biggest game of the year for me.”
For so many reasons.
Sepenoski honored Newman the best possible way. Not only did he wear Newman’s No. 5, but he scored all of his eight points during crunch time to help the First Settlers to an emotional 46-39 victory over visiting Greenport in a Suffolk County Division 5 encounter.
“I can’t even put into words we were just so emotional,” said junior forward Tristan Zugmeyer, who finished with eight points.
“I’m hoping that he’s watching us and he’s proud,” said sophomore center Brady Woods, who added nine points and 12 rebounds.
The school and community weren’t about to forget the Southold graduate’s courage and fighting spirit. Friday’s game was called Green Out Night as green jerseys were sold in the lobby outside the gym. Many of the 350 people in attendance wore green shirts.
“It was awesome,” said Todd Newman, Dylan’s father. “The best way you could put it, the community thinking of us.”
During warm-ups, the players wore green shirts that read: Dylan Newman Forever 5
The number five was on the back. Green was Newman’s favorite color.
In a moving gesture, Newman’s red game jersey with one of the green shirts was on an empty chair.
“At the beginning this season. I didn’t want anyone to wear five because that’s Dylan’s number,” Sepenoski said. “But we had just enough jerseys for everyone. We talked about it, and I was I wanted to wear it to represent Dylan and honor Dylan.”
Sepenoski said Newman was “like a mentor.”
“He always had smile on his face picking everyone else up, pushing the team to be the best they could,” he said.
When push came to shove in the fourth quarter, Sepenoski lived up to that promise as he rose to the occasion.
Left: Leon Crieghton goes up with a shot over Southold’s Jack Sepenoski. Right: Southold’s Brady Woods get a shot off over Greenport’s Taiquan Brumsey. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)
Southold (5-7, 4-6) enjoyed as much as a 10-point lead at 27-17 early in the third period before the Porters (4-8, 4-4) battled back to move within 32-30 early in the fourth
That’s when Sepenoski took center stage with his eight-point surge and a pair of treys during a four-minute stretch.
“That was Dylan helping me out,” he said.
Dylan’s mother Tanya agreed. “That was Dylan’s thing,” she said. “He would hit three pointers. Dylan was channeling himself through Jack to win that game.”
Sepenoski sank his first long-range shot with four minutes and 19 seconds remaining to give the hosts a 35-30 margin. After Southold’s Jacob Steinfeld put in a free throw, the junior guard struck again with another three-pointer to give the Settlers a 39-34 advantage with 2:39 left.
Greenport moved within 41-39 on Kal Marine’s (12 points) third trey, but Woods and Sepenoski put away two foul shots apiece as Southold held on.
It didn’t hurt the Settlers also were lethal from the foul line, sinking eight of 10 attempts during the final 3:20. Taiquan Brumsey paced Greenport with 14 points.
When the final buzzer sounded, players on the Southold bench bolted onto the court to celebrate the win. It was as though the First Settlers had won a championship they were so elated. The win allowed Southold to stay alive for a Class C playoff berth. The Settlers dropped six of their opening seven games at the start of the season but have rebounded nicely.
“That was amazing,” Sepenoski said. “We’ve been working all year. We started off a little rough in the beginning. Then we started to pick up and we just been working extremely hard the last few weeks. This is our biggest win so far.”
Afterwards, Newman’s parents hugged and congratulated Sepenoski.
“This is just the way Dylan would want it,” Tanya told a reporter. “He brought everybody together.”
“He’s a special kid,” Todd Newman added. “He wouldn’t want the attention he deserves for what he did and what he went through with a smile on his face. You wouldn’t know what he had. He just did it with class.”
As did Sepenoski and his teammates did down the stretch on Friday night.