Going Gets Tough for Whalers


By Benito Vila


It was Hunter S. Thompson who said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”  The going was very weird for the Pierson basketball program last week, an overtime loss to Bridgehampton at home was followed by a slew of newspaper reports and online commentary concerning the disciplinary suspension of varsity coach Fred Marienfeld earlier this month.

Lost in all the commotion was a last-minute come-from-behind 51-48 win over Shelter on Friday, that improved the Whalers’ league mark to 5-4 and set up a showdown with Mercy (also 5-4) at Pierson tomorrow; tip-off is scheduled for 6:15 p.m., following the JV match-up due to start at 4:30 p.m.

It was the away match-up with the Monarchs January 6 that sent many of the Whaler faithful flying off into clouds of confusion and misinformation this week. In that game, Pierson played poorly in the first half and trailed 23-16 at the break.

Coach Marienfeld, who has led the Whalers to three consecutive playoff berths and who was awarded the League VIII coach-of-the-year in 2006, spoke harshly to his team and let loose language unfit even for the confines of a locker room. That speech did little to improve Pierson’s play as the boys were outscored 33-12 the rest of the way, the final buzzer bringing a 56-28 Mercy rout to a close.


What Happened

Phone calls followed from parents to Pierson Athletic Director Bill Madsen the day after, and a practice saw two players quit. Coach Marienfeld owned up to his lapse of discretion, and was suspended from his coaching duties by the administration for four days, covering two practices and the January 12 game against Greenport.

In an interview given immediately after the suspension, Madsen said, Coach Marienfeld had been censured “for conduct detrimental to the program. He used language that was inappropriate and Coach Marienfeld recognized it and apologized to me and to the team.”

It was only last Thursday that news of the suspension reached hysterical proportions, one publication reporting Coach Marienfeld had also been suspended from his teaching duties and others calling Madsen to check on outlandish allegations. Meanwhile, a flurry of online postings and frenetic phone calls to local reporters made it increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction.


What’s the Latest

All the animosity and second-guessing aside, the Whalers are two games out of the playoffs after last Friday’s win. Like the rest of the week, much of the game against the Indians wasn’t pretty, Pierson down 11-8 after the first and 24-20 at the half.

Tenacious defense held the Indians to eight points in the third quarter, the Whalers cutting the deficit to two when Joey Dowling, Skyler Loesch and Brook Harnett scored from the floor and Tyler Gilbride, Casey Crowley and Luke Kirrane connected from the line.

Ryan Miller sparked an offensive surge for Pierson in the fourth, his defense earning the team extra possessions and his ability to finish at the basket netting a crucial eight points. In the lane, Loesch also made the most of his opportunities, putting in three baskets as the clock wound down.

A Miller rebound and put back just inside a minute put Pierson up for good at 50-48 and his interception of a long football-like pass in the waning seconds ended the last Indian threat. While Miller posted 12 points in all, a personal high, Crowley’s free-throw shooting helped him total 15 to lead the team.

Sophomore Jake Weingartner added nine, and his classmate Loesch eight. Eight of the nine Pierson players scored, a development that pleased Coach Marienfeld, who said, “You gotta like that, getting everyone to contribute. We need it to win. It’s working on defense; we’re giving a good effort there, scrambling and getting after the ball. That’s giving us more chances on offense and now we’re starting to finish those.”


What’s Ahead

Mercy comes into Pierson after having avenged an early-season loss at Bridgehampton, by getting past the Bees 76-51 at home last Friday. That contest was even until the Monarchs pulled away with a 24-9 run in the third.

The loss leaves the Bees 5-4 in league play, also needing two wins to qualify for the playoffs. Although a game tomorrow at Greenport may even their mark, coming out ahead at winless Smithtown Christian Tuesday and at home against 2-7 Shelter Island next Thursday could return the Bees to the post-season.

Pierson meanwhile has a more difficult road ahead, traveling to rejuvenated Ross Tuesday for a 6:15 p.m. start, hosting undefeated Greenport next Thursday at 6:15 p.m. and meeting 7-1 Stony Brook away February 9. That schedule makes tomorrow’s match-up with Mercy even more critical, little margin left for losses.


What’s It All Mean

With no returning starters on the team and often having an all-sophomore line-up on the court, it is hard not to consider the ups and downs of this season to be part of the learning curve of a young Whaler squad. Certainly, the personality conflicts and off-court distractions have added to the growing pains, but the maturation and confidence shown by senior guard Miller and sophomores Weingartner, Loesch, and Gilbride have given the team a spark it lacked early in the season.

More reliable play at the point from Crowley and Dylan Hmielenski has been helping the offense, which still lacks the type of reliable outside shooter Pierson has had on the recent Keith Robinson and Dave Locascio-led squads. The ankle injury to Dowling, a junior, has kept the team’s most experienced big man and deft inside scorer from becoming more of a force. Kirrane, an able shooter and rebounder, has begun to assert himself more of late, taking up a leadership role that he will have to return to next season.

In short, it has not been “all bad”, but the schedule ahead is tough, tougher perhaps than what these Whalers have been through already; and that is a lot to say the least.