Valley Stream South’s exciting Cinderella run in the Nassau Class A boys’ basketball playoffs ended in the semifinals when hot-shooting Garrett Johnson propelled No. 2 Jericho to a 63-50 victory at SUNY Old Westbury on Feb. 27.
The Falcons, the No. 11 seed, scored the game’s first five points but allowed 21 of the next 23 and never made a serious push for a third consecutive playoff upset. They were outscored by Johnson alone, 23-22, in the first half after sending sixth-seeded West Hempstead and third-seeded Hewlett packing in the first two rounds.
Johnson poured in a game-high 31 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Derek Medolla added 16 points for the Jayhawks, who advanced to meet No. 12 Roslyn in the championship game. South was led by freshman point guard Dana King, who scored all 20 of his points from the field.
“We had a great run, but they were better than us tonight,” VSS coach Matt Johnsen said. “Jericho is a very tough team to defend. Whether it takes them five seconds or 30 seconds, they’re going to find an opening.
“When we played them during the regular season, we did a great job on Johnson,” he added. “He had 18 points, but 13 came from the line. Tonight he just shot the lights out.”
Johnson had 11 first-quarter points, with all but two coming from behind the arc, as Jericho overcame an early 5-0 hole to lead by 12. Erik Kanzer, who had 19 points in the Jayhawks’ 66-54 win over the Falcons back on Dec. 7, was also instrumental in the opening stanza, hitting for six of his 12 points.
Medolla did most of his offensive damage in the second half, scoring 12 points, but his defensive work on South senior sharpshooter Diego Maldonado in the first half had a bigger impact on the outcome. Maldonado, who totaled 42 points in two playoff wins, was held off the scoresheet in the opening half and didn’t find the bottom of the net until he sank a three-pointer with 3:38 remaining to make it 57-41.
“We knew we had to lock down their guards, especially Maldonado, to be successful,” Jericho coach Wally Bachman said. “Derek’s such a tremendous athlete. We gave him a tough assignment and he did a sensational job.”
All but one of Maldonado’s 13 points came in the fourth quarter. South trailed by as many as 17 in the second half but a couple of buckets by King and a trey by senior Jajuan Hernandez cut the margin to 48-36 at the end of the third quarter. However, the Jayhawks scored the first seven points of the fourth, capped by the last of Johnson’s seven treys, sending a portion of the Falcons’ faithful to the exits.