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The Malverne Mules are back on top


With the previous two Malverne-Oyster Bay games having been decided by one or two baskets, the rubber match on Feb. 22 turned out to be another nail-biter. With the game still up for grabs in the last minute, the Mules edged the Baymen, 60-55, to win the Nassau County Class B basketball title at SUNY Old Westbury.

No. 1 Oyster Bay held the lead for most of the game, but No. 2 Malverne’s vexing defense eventually changed the momentum. Down by 5 entering the fourth quarter, the Mules quickly closed the deficit, and then both teams exchanged the lead as they traded baskets by scoring tough layups.

The game was tied at 55 with 1:06 left to play. Malverne turned up the pressure on defense with a full-court trap, forcing a turnover with 33 seconds to go. Malverne senior guard Makhia Effs, who got the steal, knocked down two free throws to give the Mules the lead.

“We did a great job trapping the corners, and our rotation was absolutely on point in the fourth quarter,” said Effs, who scored a team-high 14 points.

“For us, we knew that we couldn’t do what we did last time,” said Malverne assistant coach Walter Aksionoff. He said that in Malverne’s last game against Oyster Bay, his team left too many players open in the corners. “This game, we said we’re playing man-to-man, we’re dying with it, and we’ll hit them with our press defense.”

Aksionoff also said that the team’s man-to-man defense helped slow the Baymen’s top scorer, Anthony Reilly, who finished with 15 points. In his first game against Malverne, he scored 27.

“They executed in the fourth quarter better than we did,” said Oyster Bay coach Brian Boyle. “We had overcome a bunch of different things all year long, but unfortunately in this game, we just couldn’t finish it off.”

Along with the team’s defense, Aksionoff said that clutch foul shooting played a key role in Malverne’s win, as the Mules made 14 straight free throws in the fourth quarter. Asked about the mindset of going to the foul line at clutch moments, Effs responded with one word: “Cash.”

Aksionoff added that the all-around performance by senior guards Michael James, Effs and freshman Michael Warren Jr. helped seal the victory. Each player scored in double digits.

“We know we’ve got a big task ahead of us down the road,” Aksionoff said. “But for right now, these kids did a wonderful job.”

For many years, Malverne was considered one of the teams to beat in Nassau and Long Island Class B boys’ basketball, winning seven of eight county titles between 2004 and 2011 and four straight L.I. crowns from 2007 to 2010. The Mules advanced to the Class B title game in 2015 as well, but lost to Southampton. Ending its six-year drought, the team hopes that the best is yet to come.

“We had a great run in the 2000s, so maybe we could turn the corner,” Aksionoff said. “Between our freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, we got a little bit of everything.”

“We’re back on top, and we’re not going anywhere, either,” Effs said. “That’s a fact.”

The Mules will play for the Long Island title against Center Moriches at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood on March 6, at 5 p.m.