By Gavin Menu
The Pierson boys varsity basketball team will carry the collective bull’s eye of a winner into a new season this week and will lack the element of surprise as it looks to defend its Suffolk County Class C Championship from just a season ago.
The Whalers return almost their entire line-up from a team, which went 10-4 in League VIII last season and capped a remarkable run through the playoffs with the program’s first county title in 18 years.
It was late last February when then-sophomore Forrest Loesch led the Whalers through a dramatic postseason highlighted by an unlikely three-pointer from Loesch at the buzzer to defeat top-seeded Stony Brook in the Class C county final.
The dream season ended in the Long Island final with East Rockaway, the champ from Nassau County, easily defeating Pierson as Whaler point guard Ian Barrett sat out with a broken ankle.
But both Loesch and Barrett return for their junior seasons along with a strong senior class that now has experience — albeit outside attention — on its side.
“Last year we snuck up on a lot of people. We were young and we did well,” Pierson head coach Dan White said before practice this week. “We won’t sneak up on anyone this year, but I still expect us to be in contention.”
Seniors Jackson Marienfeld, Aiden Kirane, Joey Butts, Liam Doyle, Jake Bennett, Patrick Sloane and Raleigh Giudici return to lead the Whalers, who will also rely heavily on likely starters Barrett and Loesch, whose junior class is also well represented by Robbie Evjen, Cooper Marienfeld, Nick Stevens, Caleb Atkinson-Barnes, Micah Hemby and Garrett Potter on the pre-season roster.
The Whalers will kick off the 2012-2013 season with a non-league game at Shoreham-Wading River on Wednesday, December 5. Rival East Hampton will come to Sag Harbor on Friday, December 7 for the first home game of the season at 6:30 p.m.
“Every year we have these non-league games and every year we’re tied or beating East Hampton at the end of the third quarter,” said White, who became animated when talking about the upcoming East Hampton game in particular. “So right now a big goal is we want to make sure we finish these games strong. I’d like to see us not fold in the fourth quarter.”
The Whalers never had much of a chance to fight in the fourth quarter of the Long Island Championship last winter as East Rockaway ran away with a 63-29 win. White said the result stuck with returning players through long hours of practice and travel leagues during the off-season.
“That’s why we’re good, because they play year-round,” White said. “We don’t have any outstanding athletes, but they’re all good athletes. I mean, we don’t have anyone who is 6’4” and running down the floor and dunking on people. We’re skilled and it’s because they put in the work that we had success last year.”
League VIII will have some difficult competition once again this season, with defending league-champion Stony Brook returning after beating out Pierson for that honor by a single game. Key early games on the schedule will come at home against Greenport on December 21 and at home against Southold on January 8, when the real meat of the league season is scheduled to begin.
Pierson’s first game against rival Bridgehampton will come at home on January 11, with a road game at Stony Brook scheduled just four days later.
If the Whalers reach the regular-season finale on February 8 with a winning record, they will likely have a much more difficult time defending their Class C crown in the playoffs, with Greenport having moved up from Class D this year and McGann-Mercy dropping down from Class B. If eligible, Port Jefferson would also contend in Class C once the county playoffs get under way.
“It’s going to be a lot tougher this year, but I fully expect us to be in contention,” White said Monday afternoon.
And with that, talk of would-be postseason games ended as another grueling pre-season practice began.