By Charlie Mark
On Sunday, March 2, the Port Washington Vikings took on the Uniondale Knights. This matchup represented the championship game of the Nassau County Class AA playoffs, a tournament initially consisting of 16 teams. Uniondale, the defending county champions, came into the game after impressive playoff victories against both Farmingdale and Oceanside. Meanwhile, Port Washington came into the game after a victory against the top seeded Baldwin. Given the momentum and competitiveness of both teams, the championship game was bound to be exciting.
From the first possession, the tone of the match had been established. Tough defense and fast paced offense by both teams was evident. By the end of the first half, the Vikings trailed the Knights 22-21. For the Knights, Rolando Meyers Turner had scored 8 points and recorded 4 steals. For the Vikings, senior player Ben Spier had scored 7 points.
Despite the close score, the Vikings felt as if they were being outplayed. Concerning the halftime feedback from Coach Sean Dooley, senior player Marc Daly said, “At halftime, coach was telling us to keep playing hard and to try to limit them from going on scoring runs. Just try to keep the turnovers down, and keep playing tough defense.”
The Vikings kept this in mind during the third period. Thus, they played much better. However, the Knights came into the period much more determined than they had been earlier. By the end of the third period, the Knights led the Vikings 39-35. The Vikings were playing better, yet the Knights ran up their lead by three points. A championship was not out of the picture, but a comeback victory would be difficult.
In regard to the attitude of the team going into the final period, junior player Matt Schmitz stated, “Throughout the whole year we have been a second half team. Going into the fourth quarter, coach reminded us that we have been down worse before. He told us that if we could get stops, and work for open looks on offense, we would be able to come back.”
And that they did. In the final minute of the game, the Vikings made a remarkable comeback. With just 39 seconds left in the game, Marc Daly hit a three point shot to bring the Vikings within four points of tying the game. Then, Jayden Freeman of Uniondale missed a free throw which would have given the Knights a 5 point lead. Finally, with less than 30 seconds left in the game, Marc Daly made a second three pointer, this time to bring the Vikings within 1 point of tying the game.
Despite their valiant fourth quarter effort, the Vikings ended up losing 51-48. Marc Daly scored 20 points, and Meyers Turner scored 15. With the victory, Uniondale advances to the Long Island Championship game at the Nassau Coliseum.
In spite of their loss, Adam Jackman, broadcaster and co-founder of the Port Vikings Instagram page, could not be more proud of the team for their overall accomplishments. He stated, “I’ve never seen the Port community come together around a team like the varsity basketball team. Throughout this season, people have gravitated to support these guys because they have so much heart and the will to win. This season will not be forgotten for years to come by all who were a part of it.”
When looking back on this season, the Vikings should be nothing but proud. Through their teamwork and victories, they accomplished something more commendable than a championship; they brought the Port Washington community together.
Exclusive Interview with Ben Spier
Q: How did you get started with basketball?
A: Ever since the age of four, my dad has always encouraged me to play and has helped me along the way. Once I became old enough, I began to motivate myself to improve my skills and it has become my passion as well as something I love to do.
Q: What was it like to work with coach Sean Dooley this year?
A: It was an absolute honor working with Coach Dooley for the last two years. His knowledge, understanding and love for the game of basketball is contagious towards the team, and for us as players, we don’t want to let him down.
Q: How much did you push yourselves to make sure you’d make it deep into the playoffs?
A: Making a long playoff run was not the easiest thing for me due to the fact that I severely sprained my ankle four days before our first playoff game. Playing was certainly in question for me because I wasn’t able to walk for about a day or two after the injury. I was in early before practice and stayed late after practice doing physical therapy on my ankle and constantly icing. I think throughout our playoff run of four weeks, I practiced a total of four days. I did everything in my ability to rehab as quick as possible to be on the court.
Q: What are your practices like? How intense can they get?
A: Our practices are very structured and are focused on the fundamentals. Every day we pretty much do the same drills that are centered around shooting, passing, defense and then game situations. Coach Dooley does a great job of incorporating competition within each drill, which raises the level of intensity throughout practice and encourages us to improve/win.
Q: Even though you didn’t win the title, what does it mean to have made it this far?
A: It certainly is an unbelievable accomplishment being the first Port Basketball team in the last 72 years to even make it to a County Championship game and an experience that will live on within me forever. It’s really unfortunately we couldn’t get it done, but I wouldn’t replace/redo anything we did this year and the guys besides me.
Q: What areas could you have improved with?
A: I definitely could have improved with my ball handling, but I felt it was good enough for how I played as a big man.
Q: Walk me through that championship game.
A: The championship felt like a roller coaster of emotions. We started on the initial increase by getting off to an early lead and winning the first quarter, 12-10. This was quickly replaced by a Uniondale run putting us down seven points with about two minutes left in the half. Being the resilient team we were all year we fought back and got the score back to one point, restarting our ascent up. The third quarter was another upsetting quarter for us, but we did not become discouraged and give up. We gave it our all in the fourth to attempt at a comeback, but fell three points short.
Q: What are your goals for next year?
A: My goal for next year is to leave a strong legacy with the returning players on how a good work ethic can result in a positive outcome.
Charlie Mark is a sophomore at Schreiber High School. He hosts a weekly radio show at WDOT Port Washington Radio, and is a monthly contributor for the Schreiber Times.
Christina Claus contributed to this article.