Malverne claims conference title

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The Malverne Mules boys’ basketball team capped off a historic regular season with a long-awaited conference championship, but their eyes are on the bigger prize.

Malverne cemented the regular-season title with a 68-56 win at East Rockaway on Feb. 8 to finish 11-1 in Conference B/D (17-2 overall), one game better than second-place Cold Spring Harbor. Three days earlier, the Seahawks put a scare into the Mules’ championship hopes by rallying from four points down in the final 10 seconds of overtime for a 66-65 win that snapped Malverne’s 12-game winning streak.

The Mules won 14 regular-season games in 2017-18 and finished third behind Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbor in the conference before putting forth a magical playoff run. They defeated Wheatley and Oyster Bay to win the Nassau B championship and then topped East Rockaway to claim the Nassau small schools’ championship. The dream season ended with a 73-60 loss to Center Moriches in the Long Island Class B title game.

The playoff seedings and first-round matchups were not officially released by press time, but Malverne associate coach Walter Aksionof said the Mules will likely face fourth-place East Rockaway this Sunday at Farmingdale State College.

“The philosophy is the next game we lose now, that’s the last game we play,” Aksionof said. “So we have to be prepared and overall play as a team.”

Malverne swept the season series with the Rocks, but neither victory came easy. On Jan. 15, the team needed a game-tying layup by D.J. Gaston with two seconds left in the first overtime and two key free throws by fellow senior Lovens Ulysse late in the second extra session that clinched the 69-62 win.

Aksionof knows how tough East Rockaway can be and said the key to Sunday’s matchup is to shut down its top players.

“They have three ballplayers we got to pay attention to,” he said. “We’ve got to pay attention to [Christopher] Levens, [Franklin] Infante, [Aidan] O’Connor and this time [Edward] McCann was pretty tough. If we don’t give them as many two points in the paint, I think we’re OK.”

Sophomore guard Michael Warren, who paced the Mules with a 16.3 scoring average this season, missed the first game between the teams due to an injury, but produced 18 points and 12 assists in last week’s matchup.

Gaston has been Malverne’s hottest scorer of late with three straight 21-point games to close the season. His previous season high was 18 points against Oyster Bay on Dec. 18.

But Aksionof said the “X factor” in Sunday’s game for Malverne is junior Jayden Seraphin, who averaged almost eight points a game during the season but had trouble putting together consecutive strong efforts. He had 18 points and 13 rebounds in the first game against the Rocks.

“Jayden is a mystery sometimes,” he added. “There are some games [he has] 18 points and the next game, there’s nothing there. So Jayden coming off the bench could be the difference in the middle.”