Trick question: When was the last time Shelter Island boys varsity basketball team was Suffolk County champions? Never!
Last Saturday, February 15, 2014, history was made at Longwood High School. Shelter Island battled the number one seeded Greenport Porters in an exciting, competitive game, winning 73-66. As the final buzzer sounded the players leaped into the air and rushed into a sweaty circle, huge grins on their faces. The fans erupted into even louder cheers and high fives abounded, while the coaches were smiling and giving out hugs.
Before the game Shelter Island fans mobilized by bus and car and ferried across to make the trek to Middle Island. Rebeca Mundy gave out blue spirit bead necklaces, Elizabeth Dunning had her face painted blue and gray, and player Johnny Sturges sported a blue tipped mohawk. Former players reminisced about their glory years and family members readied their cameras in anticipation of an exciting contest. The crowd was loud and proud while cheerleaders provided spirit and motivation.
Player announcements, the national anthem, and, finally, finally, the tip-off and the game was underway. Greenport scored first, but these teams know each other well, so everyone knew it would be a back and forth battle. They had met twice during the regular season, each emerging with one win and one loss. Several players have known each other for years from youth soccer, football, Little League baseball and travel basketball teams. Matt BeltCappellino scored the Blue and Gray’s first points and his determined and focused play set the pace. Tristan Wissemann, the team’s top scorer, was double and triple teamed, but the Porters’ strategy created opportunities for other players. Unselfish play and great passes was the theme of the game. Matt Dunning battled under the boards, picking up a few fouls. Billy Boeklen, the JV team’s top scorer, had been pulled up to varsity for playoffs. His confident style of play and defensive work were a great fit against Greenport, and he came off the bench and made a huge impact. After Shelter Island pulled out to a 6-point lead early, their shooting went cold, and Greenport went on a 10-0 run to close out the first quarter in the lead 16-12.
Austin Hooks and Gavin Dibble were the go-to players for Greenport. Hooks was dominant on the boards, while Gavin’s renowned 3-point shooting and excellent ball handling skill kept the Blue and Gray on their toes. During the second quarter the Porters maintained a 2 to 4 point lead until Boeklen tied it up at 27 each with foul shots at the three-minute mark. Wissemann traded 3-point shots with Greenport and the teams went into the break with the Porters holding a slim 2-point lead, 33-31.
While the fans waited excitedly for the start of the second half, Coach Mike Mundy reviewed the game plan in the locker room. Jim Theinert and JV Coach Ian Kanarvogel had scouted and filmed a Greenport and Bridgehampton game earlier in the season and the team had studied it, working on specific scenarios. Volunteer Assistant Coach Jim Colligan reminded the players of that preparation and brought his calm demeanor and playoff experience.
The teams retook the court and Shelter Island’s confidence quickly paid dividends. They came alive in the third, outscoring Greenport 20-8. Fans increased their vocal support, armed with megaphones and rousing cheers.
In a scary moment, Nathan Mundy collided at mid-court and went down, holding his head. The crowd went quiet, remembering he had recently recovered from a concussion. As Mundy left the game, Matt Dunning seamlessly shifted responsibilities. With Riley Willumsen continuing his incredible turnover-free ball handling, Shelter Island gained momentum leading 51-41, at the end of the third.
Remembering their own 10-point comeback in the semi-finals against Smithtown Christian, the Blue and Gray kept focused. Greenport made short runs, but the Island boys always answered. With Greenport completely unprepared for Billy Boeklen, he just kept shooting, hitting free throw after free throw while unselfish teammates fed him the ball to create scoring opportunities. As time ticked off the clock, the team slowed down their play to use time wisely.
In the last few seconds, Gavin Dibble gave it his all, sprinting the length of the court to add 2 points. It wasn’t enough for a Porter win, but it did cap his outstanding high school career by giving him exactly 1,000 points.
In what an elated Coach Mike Mundy called a “huge team victory” the Shelter Island boys’ basketball team “played their best basketball all year” defeating their cross-bay rivals to secure their first ever county title. Led by the cheerleaders, a loud and proud crowd supported the players at literally every point as the determined squad focused and hustled their way to the historic win. Team chemistry peaked at the right time, with each player knowing his role
The Class D Suffolk County and Long Island champs set this goal back in November when the team goal was to be playing basketball in March. While the regional match-ups are yet to be announced, the ecstatic team will indeed be playing next month, this time with their eyes on the prize of qualifying for the state final four. Congratulations to the hard working coaches and players!