By Gavin Menu
With their floor general down, the Whalers have responded with an army 10 deep.
Jake Bennett, Patrick Sloane, Joey Butts and Forrest Loesch have played at or near the top of their games since junior point guard Ian Barrett went down with a knee injury last month. And the team’s bench continued to develop during two recent wins that pushed the Pierson boys basketball team’s record to a perfect 5-0 in League VIII play.
But the fun is just getting started and the Whalers’ gym is expected to be packed tomorrow night, January 11, as rival Bridgehampton is scheduled to travel up the turnpike for a showdown between schools with close ties and rich histories of basketball success.
The fate of the game was hanging in the balance on Wednesday, however, as the Killer Bees had to forfeit their game against Shelter Island on Tuesday with two players out for medical reasons and another two having been ruled academically ineligible. Bridgehampton head coach Carl Johnson said the two were “key” players but could not offer names under school policy. Johnson said the fate of the two players and whether they would be able to play on Friday would be determined today, January 10.
The Whalers, meanwhile, will travel to Stony Brook, the undefeated defending league champion, for what could be a showdown for first place on Tuesday, January 15.
To say this is a critical stretch of games for the Whalers is an understatement.
“I think we’ve moved on,” Pierson head coach Dan White said Tuesday night when asked about the team’s performance following the loss of Barrett, who is expected to miss another week. “But we’ll see when we play Stony Brook and Bridgehampton.”
The Whalers shutdown both Shelter Island and Southold in the last week, winning both games by large margins. After getting off Shelter Island with a 52-38 win on January 4, Pierson came home and dominated Southold, winning 70-50 in a game where the team’s entire bench saw significant action.
Loesch led the Whalers against Southold, a strong program having a down year, with 20 points and Liam Doyle came off the bench to score 10. Sloane and Butts each chipped in with seven points as 12 different Whalers were able to score in the game.
Pierson can legitimately go 10 players deep when Barrett is in the line-up and gets scoring from across the board. Sophomore Robbie Evjen joined Loesch, Butts, Bennett and Sloane in the starting lineup on Tuesday, and Doyle led a team of reserves off the bench including regular reserves Jackson and Cooper Marienfeld and Aidan Kirrane.
During timeouts, White said he asked his players as the game turned into a blowout to work on their full-court pressure defense as well as strong ball movement on the offensive end.
“We scored 70 points, so I think they did a pretty good job,” White said.
White went on to say that to beat a team like Stony Brook, which is undefeated in the league as well and boasts a towering front line, his team would have to consistently work the ball into “the box” as he calls it, or the paint, and work to get layups instead of outside shots.
Tuesday was another high-energy game from Loesch, who had 15 points and zero fouls at halftime as the Whalers took a 43-22 lead into the break. The deceptively quick junior forward had 23 points against Shelter Island and is averaging 20 points per game in his last five games, all Pierson wins.
“He’s got an engine like you wouldn’t believe,” White said about Loesch, who spent most of the second half on Tuesday riding the bench his with his fellow starters. “Last year he was like a bull, but now he has some skill to go with that.”