Chemistry propels Long Beach

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A year after its first playoff berth in several years, Long Beach boys’ basketball is proving last season’s success was no fluke. Riding an eight-game winning streak following a 59-56 win over Garden City last Friday, the Marines entered this week undefeated in conference play at 5-0 (8-1 overall), and lead Conference A1 by two games.

“The kids are just playing really well together,” coach Scott Martin said. “We’re focused and really forming a nice bond together. That’s really propelled us.”

Winning three of four nonleague games to open their season early last month, the Marines faced a challenge in their conference opener on the road against a Mepham team with playoff aspirations. Possessing the ball in the final minute and trailing by one point, the team remained patient, moving the ball and letting the shot clock tick down to its final seconds. Eventually they found senior forward Jacob Cochran, who banked a hook shot to give them a 53-52 lead they would not relinquish.

By not calling a time out, Martin showed enormous trust in his team, hoping they’d find the best defensive matchup to exploit. They did. “That possession alone defines what kind of team this is,” the coach said. “No one took it upon themselves to score. We were looking for the best possible chance.”

The Marines cruised in their next three victories, winning by a combined 66 points at home against MacArthur and New Hyde Park, and then beat Calhoun on Jan. 8 on the road, 70-57.

Their most recent game against a tough Garden City squad was another gut check. In that one, Cochran came through in the clutch yet again, pulling in a huge offensive rebound and put-back to put the game away.

Having known Cochran since his youth, Martin said his athletic ability was never in question. “He’s just taken a larger step in leadership, aggressiveness and playing a team game,” he said.

Cochran is one of four seniors Martin knew would be top scorers this season, along with center Evan Michaels, and guards Alex Bauer and Jaden Barwicki. But what’s impressed Martin most is their unselfishness. Indeed, in their double-digit win over Calhoun, each player scored 16 points. “Their ability to share ball, find the open man and the right play has really made us who we are.”

What has really helped his team stand out, said Martin, is the work of his three defensive specialists: seniors Aidan White and Tristan DeCicco, and junior Izzy Maldonado. The three players are so physically active on defense, said the coach, “they get into foul trouble because they’re always defending the best guy.”

While expectations remain high, Martin said his team’s biggest test will come at the end of the season, when they have a non-conference game scheduled against perennial powerhouse Baldwin, followed by two games in three days at home against Calhoun and Garden City.  

“They’re a great bunch of kids,” said Martin. “We’ll learn a lot about ourselves and let that carry us deep into the tournament.”