East Meadow still eyes playoffs


East Meadow found itself in a tough spot last Saturday, as it traveled to Baldwin for a Conference AA-II boys’ basketball makeup game. On top of facing the Bruins, unbeaten in conference play and the two-time defending Nassau County Class AA champions, the Jets (6-9 overall, 4-6 in Conference AA-II) were forced to hit the floor without point guard Cody Zafrin, who missed the game because of an injury.

“We played well in the first half without Cody,” East Meadow coach Barry Dickson said. “We just couldn’t score enough. We [played] tough on the glass because of Joe [Forrler].”

Led by junior Joe Forrler, East Meadow stayed within arm’s length for the first half, but ultimately, Baldwin’s depth and three-point shooting took over in a 75-36 victory. Forrler, who led the team with 14 points, did most of his damage at the free-throw line, converting 10 attempts, as East Meadow trailed by just four after one quarter and 32-20 at the half. “He’s in our scouting report big time,” Bruins coach Darius Burton said of Forrler, who scored 14 points in the first meeting, a game Baldwin won 66-56 on Dec. 17. “You can’t teach his effort. He’s always following his own shot. You can’t teach his heart. I love the way he plays.”

“He’s been doing that all season,” Dickson said of Forrler’s aggressive play in the post. “He’s a tough kid. But it’s hard to win when you’re [team] is playing inside and the other team is [hitting] threes.”

Four different Baldwin players hit double digits in points, led by Shane Gatling’s 13, and the Bruins converted 10 three-point shots. Joining Forrler in the scoring column for East Meadow were junior Brendan Callaghan, who had 11 points and senior Damien Sanders who scored seven.

Moving forward, East Meadow has a chance to make the upcoming Class AA playoff tournament — the first round kicks off on Feb. 15 — if it could win one of its final two games. The first crack at trying to secure a playoff berth comes Friday against Hicksville, though it was likely Zafrin would again be sidelined. “We’ll still focus [our] play inside to [Joe] Forrler, [but as the saying goes] guys have to step up.”

In Zafrin’s absence, Dickson was looking to spark the offense by adding sophomore guard Joe Minucci into the lineup. A strong outside shooter, Minucci could provide some scoring off the bench, but he hasn’t seen enough playing time to actually get in a groove. The hope is to get him those minutes so that he can get comfortable and get his jumper falling.

In the first meeting on Jan. 11, the Comets raced out to an 18-0 lead at home before the Jets rallied back for a 49-44 victory. In that win, Forrler scored 13 points, and Sanders added 10. The Jets close out their regular season at Valley Stream Central with the opening tap scheduled for 6:45 p.m.