HALF HOLLOW HILLS, New York, Feb. 26
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
A close game until the finish, No. 11 Hills East (11-8) fell to No. 6 Copiague (16-4) last week in the opening round of the Suffolk County Class AA playoffs. Despite leading through the first 24 minutes of the game, the Thunderbirds ended their season on a 66-63 setback.
“We got off to a great start… with scoring and getting into our defense,” Head Coach Peter Basel said. “With two minutes left to go it was a chaotic scene; they had a few possessions, we had a few possessions… but no one took advantage.”
The Eagles ultimately did take advantage, he said, as Copiague’s Myles Mills hit two free throws with a minute left to play. Mills broke a tie at 63 to give his team an advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.
“I felt bad for our kids, but I have to give [Copiague’s] Kevin Roberts credit,” Basel said of the Eagle, who finished with 31 points – including six 3-pointers.
Spencer Stein, one of Hills East’s senior captains, led the Thunderbirds with 16 points. Another senior captain, Justin Fackler chipped in with 15 points of his own while freshman guard Savion Lewis scored 12 points for his third double-digit scoring effort of the season.
The loss had Basel reflecting on the season as a whole, one that he said was filled with uncertainty heading into league play.
“We lost a lot from last year’s team in term of skill, offensive production [etc.],” Basel said. “But we knew we had a lot talent and a lot of pieces and we started winning.”
A third-place finish in League II netted the Thunderbirds the No. 11 seed in the county tournament. Impressive wins for Hills East included a 67-60 win over Bay Shore (11-8) on Dec. 16 and a 59-56 triumph over Bellport (12-7) on Dec. 30 – both were eventual-playoff teams.
Fackler, a multi-year varsity player who served as one of Hills East’s captains this season, emerged as the Thunderbirds leading scorer through league play with 14.9 points per game. The senior is one of seven Thunderbirds set to graduate this year.
“This year he [Fackler] was our number one option,” Basel said. “He’s a tremendous worker on and off the court… We’re going to miss him.”
Stein is another Thunderbird looking towards graduation – but not before baseball season hits in the spring, Basel said – and he earned Academic All-League honors for his play this hoops season. The Thunderbirds senior class is rounded out by captain Ryan Pliskin, Spencer Wiley, Jonathan Hicks, Matt Cruz and Mike Theodosiou.
Fackler was also named All-Conference, and junior D’Nathan Knox was named an All-League player.
Knox, a 6-foot-3 forward, started the season on the bench but emerged as one of Hills East’s top scoring options. Basel is looking forward to seeing Knox develop as a player in the build up to next year.
“[His future] really looks bright,” Basel said. “He knows what he needs to work on, but he has a great attitude and won’t whine or make excuses. He wants to play at the next level, but he knows what he needs to do in order to get better.”
Another bright spot in Hills East’s future is Lewis, a 5-foot point guard who is expected to start there for the Thunderbirds come next winter.
“He’s really going to shine for us over the next three years,” Basel said.
Originally published: Long Islander News: Half Hollow Hills
(Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015; A23)