Southold boys hoops team gets off to rocky start against East Rockaway

There are plenty of good reasons why teams play non-league games before entering the important part of their schedules.

They want to figure out their strengths and weaknesses and get their act together.

The Southold High School boys basketball team realizes that it has a few things to work on after dropping a 49-32 home decision to East Rockaway in the season opener for both teams Saturday.

“Honestly, everything,” senior guard Jack Sepenoski said. “Coming out right off the jump, get going faster. We came out a little slow and got behind.”

Head coach Lucas Grigonis agreed. “A bit of everything,” he said. “We can do everything better. We’re just going to keep grinding in the practices. Not making excuses for us. The first game of the year, there’s always things to work on and continue to work hard and improve.”

Before the opening tip-off, the Settlers had a small victory.

During pregame warm-ups, Grigonis was concerned about his bench depth. Four players were taking their SATs at the same time as the game. Senior forward Skyler Valderrama was in Rochester, N.Y. representing the school in an orchestra event in while junior forward Brady Woods was on an unscheduled family trip, Grigonis said. That left the squad with just available seven players.

“Brady and Skyler would be in the mix for sure,” Grigonis said. “But you have to show up to the games to play. Skyler was upstate performing tonight. We’re very proud of him.”

Junior forward Ryan Luhrs and junior guard Jacob Steinfeld eventually showed up to give Southold nine players.

East Rockaway grabbed a 10-0 first quarter lead before Southold senior forward Tristan Zugmeyer (six points) put in a lay-up 33 seconds into the second period. 

Kyle Pollackov, who sank four treys, led the Rocks with 14 points. Antonio Buzzetta contributed 13 points and Edwin Abreu-Lopez added 10. Steinfeld paced Southold with seven points.

“We’ve got a lot of skill,” Sepenoski said. “We just got to put it all together.”

Sepenoski is wearing No. 5 this year in honor of his late teammate and friend Dylan Newman, who passed away in September 2022 after a four-year battle with a rare form of bone cancer. He was 18. Sepenoski scored all of his eight points during crunch time in a vital 46-39 victory over Greenport in January.

“Just want to honor Dylan as my friend,” he said. “I’ve played with him in a lot of sports over the years and I love him. I try to make him proud.”

One game hardly makes a season and there is plenty to play for this campaign – the Suffolk County Class C title.

Southold and Greenport will vie for county honors because there are only two teams in the classification.

“We’re here to compete,” Grigonis said. “We’re here to try to win a title this year and see how far we can go.”

Those two teams should be quite familiar with each other when the Class C final rolls around on Feb. 29, since the rivals will meet three times during the regular season. The Settlers host the Porters on Dec. 19, then play at Greenport on Jan. 12 before welcoming their foes back on Jan. 30.

“We want use every game to make us better for the Greenport games,” Sepenoski said, “so we come out on top as champions.”