SELDEN – Spackenkill coach Tom Bell became choked up at times as he addressed his basketball team, sitting in a classroom beneath the gymnasium of Suffolk Community College in Selden.
“I’m proud of you all,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything we could have done differently.”
Part of the reason for that sentiment was scrawled on the chalkboard behind him: A mathematical equation tallying the number of three-pointers that Center Moriches High School drained to sink the Spartans.
The problem on the board was solved but it wasn’t on the court as the Spartans’ sparkling season came to an end with a 72-57 loss in the Class B regional final on Saturday.
“It’s hard when a team is that hot from outside,” Spackenkill senior Camron Abalos said. “It gets a little frustrating and there isn’t much you can do to cool them off.”
Spackenkill was undermanned for a portion of the game, seemingly overmatched throughout and, in the end, overwhelmed.
Center Moriches, the Section 11 champion, hit 14 three-pointers and made close to 70 percent of them. That included going 8 for 12 in the first half.
“We accomplished a lot this season and we can’t hang our heads over this,” Bell said. “We’re going to go out and celebrate this season.”
Literally. The Spartans had reservations for a popular Italian restaurant in Suffolk County. The team would gather there to reflect and “enjoy each other’s company,” said Abalos, who finished with 1,325 career points, second in program history.
Center Moriches faces Westhill or Norwich in a state semifinal Friday at Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton.
The Spartans (21-3) won the Mid-Hudson Athletic League title this season and came from behind in the Section 9 championship and the regional semifinal, showing a resilience and resolve that Bell said defined their season.
There was more of that on display on Saturday as Tucker Lee returned from an injury that, at one point, was feared to be a broken ankle. But his absence for a chunk of the game proved another obstacle for Spackenkill. Lee is one of the Spartans’ better shooters and a stopper on defense.
The senior went down beneath the basket in the first quarter and required help to hobble off the court. Lee told a trainer he heard a “pop” and initially was unable to put weight on his right ankle. But during the third quarter he reappeared with his ankle taped, pacing behind the bench. He was reinserted midway through the period.
“I wasn’t sure if I should allow him to go back in,” Bell admitted. “But the trainer said it was a sprain and Tucker was begging to go back in.”
Seconds after re-entering, Lee hit a three from the right wing. Teammates said his return gave them an emotional boost.
However, that basket cut the deficit to 17 points with 4:49 remaining in the third. The Red Devils (21-4) had taken control from late in the second quarter and would pull away in the second half.
“I didn’t want my last game to end on the bench and I wanted to step up and do something for my team,” said Lee, who last month was given the team’s leadership award. “They were struggling and needed something, and I wanted to help.”
That gesture typified what the guard has been about in his career, Abalos said, describing Lee as selfless and “tough.”
Kyiev Bennermon had 17 points and 17 rebounds for Spackenkill. The 6-foot-4 forward was effective in the post and Center Moriches could do little to match his size inside. But that wasn’t of consequence for the Red Devils, who offset that with outside shooting.
Abalos and Ezequiel De La Cruz each added 10 points. Hayden Peek scored seven points and Lee was held to two three-pointers in the third.
The Spartans were hampered by turnovers in the first half, and David Falco’s three at the buzzer gave Center Moriches a 39-26 lead at halftime. Tyiquon Nix’s three pushed the lead to 54-33 with 3:09 left in the third.
Nix scored 19 points and Nakia Durham had 17 points to lead the Red Devils, who had lost to Spackenkill in a regional final in 1998.
“When you think of everything we did this year, it’s hard to say it wasn’t a good year,” Lee said. “I can be proud of that.”
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4