There was no way for Oceanside coach Dan Keegan to downplay the importance of a win to open the second half of the Nassau Conference AA-I boys’ basketball schedule with the Sailors sitting at 2-4 and mired in a three-game slide.
“We had to treat it like a playoff game,” he said of the Jan. 17 matchup against visiting Massapequa. “It’s a huge climb back into playoff contention at 2-5, so we didn’t want to be in that predicament.”
Though the Sailors struggled with outside shooting, hitting just three shots from behind the arc, they executed down the stretch and pulled out a 54-49 victory behind senior center Hunter Sabety’s 26 points and 17 rebounds. Sabety, who put on a show with five dunks on the night, scored 11 of the team’s 13 fourth-quarter points. Senior Jonah Kaplan (13) and junior Casey Kelly (10) also scored in double figures.
“They played a lot of packed-in zone, and we weren’t terribly efficient from the outside,” Keegan explained. “It’s not like us to make only three threes, but we were good in crunch time. Our defensive intensity and good execution late in the game won it.”
Oceanside (6-6 overall) avenged a loss to the Chiefs in the conference opener and moved within a half-game of Hempstead for the fourth and final playoff spot in AA-I. Massapequa, which got 19 points from Dylan Balducci and 12 from Ryan McGuire, fell to 2-5. “Losing this game would have been a double whammy,” Keegan said. “Not only would we be 2-5, but we’d be behind Massapequa with two losses to them. We’re not firing rockets into the sky, but everyone knows this was a big one.”
After being outscored by a dozen points by the Chiefs in the first meeting, the Sailors turned the table in the rematch. They trailed by four after the opening quarter but used a 16-10 second-quarter run to lead by a basket at the half. The advantage swelled to nine heading into the fourth, but the game was deadlocked with three minutes to go.
“We’ve got a mature team and we’ve been in battles like that before,” Keegan said. “I think our experience in pressure situations showed.”
In the end, Massapequa had no answer for Sabety. It was the fourth time in five games he cracked 20 points, and the one time he didn’t, Jan. 8 against Hempstead, he hit for 19. “We did a nice job getting the ball inside, and Kaplan did enough slashing to keep their defense somewhat honest,” Keegan said.
Junior Ryan Hertling started in place of senior Brian Lau (flu) and ripped down eight rebounds. Keegan also got quality minutes off the bench from junior Bobby Stewart and freshman Kevin O’Keefe. “They’re all physical and play hard,” Keegan said.
Next up is a trip to Uniondale on Jan. 29. It will be the Sailors’ first game in 12 days. “They’re playing better basketball compared to earlier in the season when we beat them,” Keegan said. “But it worked out when we had a lot of time to prepare for them the first time around.”