OLD WESTBURY, NY - Two years in a row, Uniondale has gotten to the Nassau Class "AA" championship game, but both times they have fallen short of grabbing the title.
Imran Ritchie, a senior guard for the Knights, has been on both of those teams that have come so close, and he was aching for one more chance, and after a big 2nd half against Elmont in the semifinals on Wednesday, he will get that chance as Uniondale knocked off the Spartans at SUNY Old Westbury, 58-48.
"Two years in a row losing in the title championship game has been rough," Ritchie said.
As the 3 seed this year, he knew the teams semifinal game against 2nd seeded Elmont was not going to be easy, and Knights coach Tom Diana came into the game with the mindset of knowing this would be a serious challenge.
"Once you get to the final 4, whoever you play, you will be taking on a great team," the veteran Uniondale coach said.
Early on in the semifinal tilt, it was a defensive struggle with neither team able to finish on drives inside, and perimeter shots were contested with hands in shooters faces, but that is exactly how Diana says he wants games involving the Knights to go.
"Defense is so important. We rotate well and always made sure we had a guy in their face challenging them," Diana explained.
Najee Peters was solid in the 2nd quarter on the glass, and Ritchie hit a big three from the left wing late in the half, and even though Elmont guard Tristan Brown bad 8 in the opening half, it was still Uniondale who was up 26-23.
Out of the half, Uniondale senior Shomari Redd admitted that he felt it was his time to do something to put his stamp on the game, Diana said he knows that Redd likes the spotlight, and the combo guard said he was up to the task when his team needed him.
"I knew I could take them off the dribble, it was just a matter of doing my thing and putting the ball in the basket," Redd said.
That's exactly what he did. In a tight game, Redd knocked home a three ball from the corner, and then drove down the right side and finished with contact for a three point play. That bulged the lead in 34 second span from a 3 point game to a 9 point game, which Diana knew really changed the complexion of the game.
"When we extended the lead it made them force things and play faster, and I believe we are a good defensive team which affected them too," Diana said with a smile.
Elmont was forced to rely in perimeter shots, and while Brown and junior forward Chiazam Nwankwo kept them he in the game, the Spartans never got within two possessions to really challenge Uniondale. They struggled badly from the FT line late, and with Redd and Ritchie, along with Alan McDonald finishing the game strong, the Knights will head to Adelphi to play for the Nassau "AA" championship, taking down Elmont, 58-48.
Redd paced Uniondale with 15 points in the win with Ritchie and McDonald adding 12 and 10 respectively for the Knights in the victory.
Nwankwo led Elmont with 11 points in defeat, while Brown and Matthew Graham each added 9.
It's another trip to the title game for Uniondale, and this year Ritchie said he knew how to handle getting there.
"Last year we celebrated a bit too much when we won our semifinal game to get to the championship," Ritchie explained. "This year I told the team, it's just another win, we have a goal to win it, not just get there."
And as for what to expect when they face Farmingdale in the title game at Adelphi, Ritchie put it best.
"Expect a war, because it will be a war."
Farmingdale Advances Over Baldwin, 45-37
The Dalers were superb defensively, allowing only sophomore guard Shane Gatling to score for Baldwin in the first half as Farmingdale led 18-10 at the break.
The Bruins made a 3rd quarter run cutting it to 29-26 late in the quarter, but junior guard Daniel McKeon hit a bit three to give Farmingdale some breathing room again, and with senior forward Ron Winkler controlling the paint for most of the game for the Dalers, they were able to hold off Baldwin, and not allow them to get any closer than 5 in the 4th, as it will be Farmingdale in the Nassau "AA" championship game on Saturday to challenge Uniondale for the title, as they knocked off the #1 seed Baldwin, 45-37.
Winkler had 15 points and 12 rebounds to lead Farmingdale with McKeon nailing 3 threes and adding 10 points.
In the loss, Baldwin was led by the 10 points a piece of Gatling, who was scoreless in the 2nd half, and senior big man Paul Nosworthy.
Uniondale and Farmingdale will meet for the Nassau "AA" Championship on Saturday at 3:30pm at Adelphi. It will be the 3rd time the two league rivals have met this season, with Uniondale winning the prior two, but just by a combined 3 points, so expect a great title game with the winner of that one going on to the Long Island "AA" title game to face Brentwood.