BAYSIDE, NY - To state that a lot has changed since 2011Class A Federation champs Long Island Lutheran (LuHi) took down 2011 PSAL semi-finalists, Wings Academy, in the championship game at the Beacon Back-to-School Tournament last year would be an understatement. A facelift in personnel would be more like it.
Each team's third and fourth option from last year - Wings' Justin Jenkins and LuHi's K.J. Lee, respectively - have been thrust into the drivers' seat and the remainder of each unit are new faces in positions of ironing out the wrinkles before the season. Did defending champs LuHi have enough steam to iron out Wings?
No cigar this time. The Bronx unit's asphyxiating defense rattled the Crusaders early on, as Wings maintained control for the entire first half. LuHi made a potent run in the second half, but never held a lead after the opening minutes and ultimately fell to their PSAL opponent, 65-58.
The PSAL stalwarts came out of the gate pumped, as guards Justin Jenkins and Marvilio Berroa poured it on from inside and out. Their press stymied the Crusaders, and save some buckets from Lee and 6'9" junior Kentan Facey, LuHi could barely set up an offense.
"We ran that 1-2-1-1 diamond [press]," noted Jenkins. "We like the uptempo game, so we try to force turnovers, push the ball in transition and shoot it."
They did just that, and eventually grasped a 12 point lead, 29-17. Wings' mid-half scoring slump left the door open for LuHi to make a push, but the Long Island unit failed to capitalize and went into the half on the butt end of a 31-21 score. Wings wouldn't coast without resistance for long, though.
Facey (who scored 12 of his team high 18 points in the second half) emerged from the halftime break with a showing that justified his Division I college interest. A gumbo of mid-range swishes, put backs, and posterizing dunks from the lithe forward brought LuHi back into striking range; it wouldn't be long before they were at Wings' doorstep. A sudden whirlwind of three point shooting started by senior big man, Ryan DiNicola (5 points), made the game an interesting one. The flurry was capped by a huge trey from an otherwise quiet Viktor Zambor to make it a 39-38 game. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, that would be the end of their aggressor phase. Wings' defense minimized Lee (15 points) in the second half. Meanwhile, 6'7" forward Steven Gomez carried Wings through an offensive slump - he scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half - and once they regained some breathing room, Jenkins knew it was time to drop the hammer.
"I was missing easy shots early in the game," said Jenkins, who netted a game high 20 points. "When the game got close [in the second half], I found my shooting touch."
That shooting touch created swoosh sounds from various spots on the floor and put Wings back in control. But part of being a leader is knowing when to have trust in and defer to others.
"Most of the people on this team didn't play a lot last year, they don't have the experience I have," Jenkins said. "But they watched, so they know what it takes. I just try to teach them to calm down. When [LuHi's] defense adjusted to me, I found my open teammates."
One of those open teammates was Berroa (16 points), who sunk big shots down the stretch to expand the lead back to as many as nine points before the final buzzer.