Mired in a four-game slide after a strong start and desperate for a win to get back in contention for a Nassau Class AA boys’ basketball playoff spot, Kennedy didn’t waste an opportunity to take advantage of a struggling rival last Friday.
Behind senior Ralph Faiella, the Cougars opened an early nine-point lead and never looked back in a 62-38 victory over visiting Mepham. Faiella scored nine of his 14 points in the first four minutes and also contributed seven rebounds, while senior Tyler Merron netted a game-high 16 points to go with five rebounds and five steals. The Pirates got 11 points from senior Kareem Sultan.
“We needed a win,” Faiella said after Kennedy (6-5 overall) captured its first Conference AA-III game since Dec. 21 to even its mark at 4-4. “We wanted to get the lead early and keep it, and not give them any confidence,” he added.
It wasn’t all good news for the Cougars, however, as senior Jake Greenberg (seven points, four rebounds) went down early in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a severe ankle injury. He was carried off by several teammates and taken to a local hospital for x-rays that revealed a fracture and ligament damage.
“You hate to see anyone get injured,” Kennedy coach Rory Block said. “Jake’s been through a lot with back problems and he really looked solid out there tonight. It’s unfortunate, but we’ll move on and do the best we can.”
With the win, the Cougars moved into a tie with Herricks for the conference’s fourth and final playoff slot with six games remaining. Great Neck South, 7-1, leads the field turning for home while Mepham, which lost all five starters from last season, brings up the rear without a notch in the win column.
“This conference is as good as it’s been from top to bottom,” Block said. “I don’t think there’s anyone we can’t beat if we play well, and anyone can beat us if we don’t play well. We weren’t taken Mepham lightly tonight, that’s for sure.”
The Pirates chipped away at an early 14-5 deficit and were down just four late in the first quarter after baskets by Sultan and senior Nick Martinez. But a Greenberg jumper and Merron’s driving layup at the buzzer allowed Kennedy to take a 21-13 lead into the second.
After Greenberg opened the second quarter with a three-pointer, and senior Chris Racalbuto scored five of his nine points, the margin suddenly swelled to 31-15. The Cougars led by as many as 26 in the second half.
“We played strong defense and did a good job boxing out and rebounding,” Faiella said. “We give up size to every other team in the conference, so that’s what we have to do to be successful.”
Both teams return to the court this Friday. Kennedy travels to Carey for a 4:45 p.m. tipoff, while Mepham hosts Long Beach at 6:15 p.m.