Valley Stream South students high-fived head coach Matt Johnsen and his players after they cheered the fifth-seeded Falcons to a Class A boys’ basketball first-round playoff victory against neighborhood rival Hewlett on Feb. 15.
Johnsen credited the packed home crowd cheering loudly in the back-and-forth game with helping the Falcons to win, 69-63, and getting over the hump to advance to the quarterfinals.
“Something that always puts us over the top is our crowd,” Johnsen said. “They always bring so much energy and we feed off of it.”
Fans had plenty to cheer about down the stretch when South (16-4) closed the game with 14-7 run in the last two minutes starting with a tie-breaking three-pointer by senior guard Matt Benavides that gave it a 59-56 lead. Hewlett trailed by four late when Benavides went to the line and sank two free throws that iced the win and he finished his final home game with 17 points.
“Matt Benavides has put in so much hard work,” Johnsen said. “For him to make those shots at the end and threes at the end was great to see.”
Benavides’ outside shooting was complemented by center Brandon Gosley, a strong inside presence who finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Gosley, Benavides, Corey Powell, Aaron Davis and Matthew Doncell gave South a balanced scoring effort during 16-6 third quarter spurt that produced the Falcons’ largest lead, 43-32.
Hewlett answered the bell with an 11-0 run that featured eight straight points from senior guard Luca Preziosi to cut the lead to 43-42. Preziosi stepped up with 19 points in his final high school game and knocked down two free throws late to cut South’s lead to 66-63 before the Falcons iced the game from the free throw line.
The No. 12 Bulldogs were in position for the road upset thanks largely to a scoring explosion from senior guard Alyjah Hill, who finished with 31 points including 17 in the fourth quarter alone.
“He had a great three years here,” Hewlett head coach Bill Dubin said of Hill, who also tallied 17 points along with 15 rebounds and 10 blocks in a 59-44 Feb. 13 Nassau Class A outbracket game. “There will be big shoes to fill with him gone.”
Hewlett finished the season at 13-7 overall after starting with eight straight victories. Dubin hopes next year’s returning players will be fueled for a deeper playoff run next winter.
“We’re young and we’ll rebound,” Dubin said. “It’s a tough way to end and it’s a long, long offseason and hopefully the kids will learn from it and come back stronger next year.”
South will look to keep its championship hopes alive with a quarterfinal game at fourth-seeded Elmont at noon Thursday. The two-time defending Class A champions knocked off the Falcons in the opening round last year.
“This group is locked in,” Johnsen said. “They are playing to stay with each other another day and are going to be hard to knock out.”