By Benito Vila
The Pierson seventh grade team came into this season both confident and uncertain. Several players had played together in the Police Athletic League the last few winters, twice playing for the championship and winning once. It was not clear how those players would gel with the others or how they might fare in the more structured state and county-regulated “junior high” program.
Coach Jonathan Tortorella took on a roster of 16 in November and demanded co-operation from the get go. Looking back this week, he said the most critical moment of the season came after an opening game loss to East Hampton. “We had set a team goal of going undefeated this year, a very tough task. After we lost the first,we were not really sure how good we were. Without a practice before our next game, we had a team discussion about our goals and what we are capable of doing. We came out the next day and played a near perfect game against Southampton, winning by 31 and getting contributions from everyone.”
That level of commitment to one another carried on after that first win, this youngest set of Whalers going on to win their last 11 games, including a 50-47 nail-biter over East Hampton in a January 8 re-match. Coach Tortorella said what he will remember most about this team is “their ability to deal with adversity. Due to either injury or illness, we only had a full team for 3 of our 12 games. No matter who was out, there were no excuses and it was barely even talked about. Other players stepped up and they all overcame everything they were confronted with. It was something that I hope they carry with them outside of basketball.”
Although the team fell short of its goal to go undefeated, it did hit two other pre-season targets, allowing less than 35 points per game on defense (34.3) and scoring more than 55 points per game on offense (55.5).
On the seventh grade roster were Caleb Atkinson-Barnes, Ian Barrett, Jack Bori, C.P. Cook-Firquet, Charlie Dickstein, Patrick Ficorilli, Joe Gengarelly, Drew Harvey, Nick Kruel, Forrest Loesch, Cooper Marienfeld, Gavin O’Brien, Garrett Potter, Aaron Schiavoni, Tim Markowski and Max Snow.
One Step Up
This year’s eighth grade team will forever remind the seventh graders about their sole scrimmage, where the older boys used their height and quickness to make the outcome a one-sided affair. That intra-program match-up was a welcome change for the eighth graders after routinely facing opponents with six-footers inside and confident shooters outside.
Coach Hank Katz described his approach as going beyond the score of any single game and looking ahead to a higher level of play. “At this level I never really pay much attention to the win/loss record. We did however finish 4 and 7. This record was no reflection on our actual success this season. A middle school team’s responsibility is to one day get ready to contribute to the high school team’s success and I believe this group will do just that.”
He also added, “It was a privilege to have been with these kids for the past two years. They worked hard, were very coach-able, and I believe that not only will they contribute on the basketball court, but most importantly, they will contribute as good kids who will be a positive influence whatever their plans.”
Making up Coach Katz’ first unit, and playing quarters one and three, were Jake Bennett, Dillon Decker, Joe Faraguna, Dana Harvey, Aidan Kirrane, and Jackson Marienfeld. The second unit, playing quarters two and four, were Abu Brown, Joe Butts, Gabe Denon, Liam Doyle, Raleigh Gordley, Patrick Sloane and Colman Vila.