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Fans’ notes: On the bus, in the stands for the victory

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Lining up for a victory Tuesday at the Westchester County Center.
BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Lining up for a victory Tuesday at the Westchester County Center.

As the Island boys gear up for one of their biggest challenges of the season tomorrow at SUNY New Paltz, playing for a regional championship, here’s an inside look from the spectators’ perspective on the victory Tuesday over Clark Academy.

At 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, March 4, a Hampton Jitney bus was parked in the Wades Beach parking lot.  Shelter Island boys varsity basketball fans wearing blue and gray streamed onto the bus for the three-hour trip to the New York state southeast regional semifinals in White Plains.

The nearly 60 fans included the cheerleaders, the boys junior varsity basketball team and fans ranging in age from four to 80. Reporter photographer Beverlea Walz was also on the trip to shoot photos for the paper.

Our trip organizer, Rebecca Mundy, was counting heads, checking lists, watching the clock, handing out blue spirit beads and making sure everything was ready for the big day.  The fan bus was a community effort supported by the Shelter Island Recreation Department, the 10K Community Fund and South Ferry.

The excitement was palpable as parents discussed what they had read about the competing team.

Overheard in the buzz of voices was some good analysis: “Clark Academy is more athletic than us, but has less polished skills and they don’t have outside shooters.”

“And our team is peaking at the right time. They are really working well as a unit.”

The Westchester County Center was impressively large, with over 4000 seats.

As the game got underway the fans enjoyed the big stage atmosphere, complete with an announcer and scrolling scoreboard.  And Shelter Island came ready to play.

In control, playing with intensity, they set up plays and adjusted to the Clark Academy Knights’ style of play. The first quarter ended with the Islanders up, 20-11, and the crowd gave the team a rousing standing ovation.

As Clark started using their full court press, grabbing a couple of steals resulting in layups, fans began to get a bit nervous. “We’ve got to be careful and protect the ball — you need eyes on the back of your head against this team,” one hometown fan said.

But the Blue and Gray steadied our fears, and at the half held a surprising 36-21 lead. The crowd got to their feet, serenading the players with a rousing, rhythmic,  “Shelter Island! Shelter Island!”

At the start of the second half Clark came out on the offensive, but there was no backing down from the Island boys. As time ticked on and the scoreboard continued to reflect a dream coming true, a festive atmosphere prevailed. Music during time outs prompted some ad lib dancing.

As coaches continued doing a great job rotating players in and out, crowd favorite Johnny Sturges got onto the court. The fans promptly chanted his name, and only moments later a great pass from Tristan Wisseman allowed him to score and the crowd roared their approval.  At the end of third, with the score at 48-29, Johnny exemplified sportsmanship as he gave a Clark player a hand up off the floor.

At the top of the fourth quarter, fans were laughing and smiling. Things were looking good, but knowledgeable fans know a full court press and turnovers can swing the momentum quickly, so no one dared relax. With five minutes left fans were urging the players to “use the clock!”

Hearts were racing, and faces were flushed — it looked like the lead will hold.   Four minutes left, and things were getting a little chippy on court. Clark called a time out to settle things down.

“Three minutes, Blue!”

School Superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes was pacing in the stands, one of many people texting scores to supporters who couldn’t make the game. Cameras documented the score and time left until finally … finally the clock was at 0:00 and the score read 63-35.  Hugs and cheers abounded and cheerleaders jumped in joy.

The team gathered for a victory photo on the floor. There were smiles, but even more so there was an attitude of a team on a mission. Shelter Island is one of only eight Class D teams left standing in all of New York. Only one game, 32 minutes of basketball, stands between them and the ultimate goal of being in the state final four.

Treasure this moment, Shelter Island. This is history-making time for boys’ basketball.  Let’s all enjoy the ride.