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South Side nips Mepham in thriller


A clutch 7-for-8 performance from the foul line in the final 40 seconds lifted No. 3 South Side to a 59-54 victory over No. 11 Mepham in a back-and-forth Nassau Class A boys’ basketball quarterfinal thriller last Saturday afternoon before an overflow crowd in Rockville Centre.

Senior Jake Murphy’s second free throw with 12.7 seconds remaining provided the 14th and final lead change as the Cyclones (18-3) won their 15th straight and advanced to face defending county champion Manhasset in the semifinals. Seniors Eamon McGowan and Ryan Ledwith both converted a pair of free throws in the waning moments to seal the outcome. Murphy had 20 points, McGowan 16 and Ledwith 11.

“We hit some pressure shots and made a big defensive stand late in the game with Eamon’s block,” South Side head coach Jerry D’Angelo said. “What’s great about this team is the flexibility and senior leadership. The kids had a specific defense they wanted to play late in the game and I trusted them.”

Mepham (15-6), which eliminated sixth-seeded Valley Stream South in the first round, led South Side 54-52 with 1:01 left following a dazzling effort from junior Mekhi Beckett, who after a rebound drove the length of the floor and drilled a pull-up jumper. The Pirates, however, didn’t score thereafter.

“It’s a very resilient group of kids who worked extremely hard all season and with the exception of one game, we were right there perpetually,” Mepham head coach Pat Fallon said. “We’ve had several of these games that came down to the end and once again the difference was just a shot or two.”

Sophomore Richie Vaquero led Mepham with 17 points. Beckett had 14 and senior Jack Fontanetta added 10.

“They were physical and played tough defensively,” said D’Angelo, whose team overcame an eight-point deficit in the second half of its playoff-opening victory over Garden City. “It took everything we had,” he added.

The Pirates made several second-half runs following timeouts by Fallon to set up the frantic finish. They trailed by five late in the third quarter when a pair of free throws from senior Chris Smith and a floater in the lane by Vaquero cut South Side’s lead to 37-36 heading into the fourth.

Beckett opened the fourth with a long trey, capping a seven-point spurt, and Mepham led 39-37. The teams then traded seven-point runs, with a traditional three-point play by Murphy regaining the lead for South Side. Baskets by Jack McDonald and McGowan made it 44-39 with 5:01 remaining.

Back came the Pirates, who ran off seven straight and nine of the next 11 points to lead 48-46. Quinn Shannon and Ledwith both drained crucial treys in crunch time with the Cyclones trailing.

“It was a great atmosphere and a great high school basketball playoff game,” D’Angelo said. “It was a war and we’re expecting the same against Manhasset.”

The semifinals take place this Saturday at Farmingdale State University. Top-seeded Elmont faces No. 4 Jericho at 4 p.m., followed by South Side against the seventh-seeded Indians at 6:30 p.m.