Wantagh fights Manhasset to finish


Wantagh held defending state champion and top-seed Manhasset to a season-low output in their Nassau Class A boys’ basketball semifinal matchup Tuesday evening, but the Warriors couldn’t generate enough offense of their own to pull the upset.

Manhasset got 17 points from senior standout Liam Connor and a dozen from junior James Notias, its lone first-year starter, and held off No. 5 Wantagh, 50-37, before a crowd of 1,500 at Farmingdale State College. The Indians closed the game by scoring 16 of the last 21 points and advanced to face second-seeded South Side in the county final.

The Warriors, who captured the Conference A4 title and eliminated No. 12 Roosevelt and No. 4 Friends Academy on the way to the semis, finished 18-4. They were led by senior Jakai Lester’s 14 points. Junior James Ackermann scored eight off the bench, and senior Jake Borgese chipped in six.

“It stinks that it’s over,” Wantagh head coach Matt Simeone said. “I think a lot of people were shocked what we’ve accomplished all season and probably more were shocked we were two points from Manhasset in the fourth quarter.

“We did a little too much standing around on offense late in the game and we just weren’t able to score enough,” he added. “We held a great offensive team to 50. Our kids played their hearts out and the senior group is a big reason the program is on the map.”

Wantagh controlled the pace for a good portion of the evening and held high-scoring Manhasset, which scored at least 70 points in each of its previous 11 games, without a three-pointer. In fact, Warriors junior Charlie DeStefano hit the only trey of the game to close the third quarter and cut the Indians’ lead to 33-28.

Manhasset only trailed early in the first quarter after Lester opened the scoring but had its hands full when junior Jack Tate’s putback brought Wantagh within 34-32 with 5:56 remaining.

The Indians answered by getting points on five of their next six possessions to start a 13-1 run to open a comfortable cushion at 47-33. Notias (six) and Connor combined for 11 points during the four-minute plus spurt that also saw the Warriors counter with only a Lester free throw.

“Our defense set the tone all season long,” Simeone said. “We had a big second half offensively at Friends Academy in the quarterfinals and that was a statement game. I coached there for 15 years so it was a little weird. But it was an awesome win.”

DeStefano (15), senior Ryan Daly (14) and Lester (13) all scored in double figures Feb. 21 as the Warriors defeated the Quakers, 51-47. Ackermann added seven off the bench.

“James has been practicing really well and we went to him early last week and again tonight,” Simeone said of Ackermann following the semifinal. “This group has been like that all season. If someone was struggling there was always someone else that picked up the slack.”