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Boys basketball looks to finish 2017 strong

Senior+Jake+Block+attempts+a+three-pointer+against+East+Meadow+on+Feb.+3.+The+Vikings+won+the+game+69-47.
Senior Jake Block attempts a three-pointer against East Meadow on Feb. 3. The Vikings won the game 69-47.

Senior Jake Block attempts a three-pointer against East Meadow on Feb. 3. The Vikings won the game 69-47.

Senior Jake Block attempts a three-pointer against East Meadow on Feb. 3. The Vikings won the game 69-47.

Noah Sollinger, Staff Writer

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With the playoffs approaching, the varsity boys basketball team is heating up at the right time.  In the Vikings’ last seven games, they are 5-2, losing only in close games to conference leaders Westbury and Baldwin.  Led by senior Xavier Merriweather and Coach Sean Dooley, the team has an impressive 11-7 record, which places them third in Nassau County Conference AA-II.

Merriweather is having an incredible senior season, as he is currently the 2nd best scorer in Nassau County, averaging nearly 22 points per game.  Moreover, he is on track to be one of the top scorers in recent Vikings basketball history.

The Vikings started off the season hot, going on a three game win streak in December after losing their first matchup by only six points.  In the second game of that three game stretch, Merriweather scored a career high 37 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, including three buckets from behind the arc, while leading the squad to a 70-53 win at Manhasset.

Merriweather is tied for twelfth most points in a single game this season on all of Long Island.  Senior Jake Block was also as major contributor during that contest, scoring nine points.

Another huge win this season came on Jan. 18, when the team won 61-57 in a tough game away against a strong Plainview-JFK squad.  In that matchup, Merriweather had 30 points, including four three-pointers. Other top scorers in that matchup were seniors Jagger Alagna and Jake Block, who scored ten and nine points, respectively.

Plainview-JFK  is in the Vikings’ conference, and has a commendable 11-6 record, so this was a great win for the Vikings.

“The Plainview game was crucial because it helped solidify us likely in third place in our conference,” said senior Rob Konoff.

One of the most exciting games of the season came against county power-house Baldwin at home on Jan. 20.  This matchup came down to the last seconds, with the team losing on a jumper by Baldwin with ten seconds left.  It was a packed house for this contest, and the crowd was electric the entire game.

Merriweather scored 22 points, and the team was extremely close to an amazing win.  Although the Vikings lost, they proved that they could compete with the conference’s top teams, as Baldwin was the Long Island regional champion last year.

“The place was going crazy, and we realized we can play with any team in the county,” said Konoff.

Block scored five points including one three-pointer in the contest.  He is another team leader who has been imperative to the team’s success so far this season.  This confidence from the senior leaders truly represents the boost this game gave to the squad, despite the loss.

On Feb. 3, the squad played very well on home court in front of a capacity crowd against East Meadow.  It was senior night, and many of the seniors had very impressive games.  Senior Evan Goldstein scored a season high 25 points, including five baskets from behind the arc, despite wearing a protective mask on his face for a broken nose.

Throughout the entire game, it simply seemed that Goldstein could not miss. He was not the only senior who played an exceptional game. Merriweather, Alagna, and Block scored 16, 11, and 9 points, respectively.

Prior to the matchup, there was a ceremony for the eight seniors on the team, and each of their families were invited to the court as the announcer read a short paragraph written by coach Dooley regarding the players’ development and the role he plays on the team.

The regular season has been a huge success for the Vikings, and they have one game left to play.  This game will be played on Feb. 10 at Valley Stream Central. The team obliterated Valley Stream Central in their only other matchup against them this season, winning 73-39.

In the matchup, Merriweather scored 26 points, including an incredible 20 points in the first half.  More scoring help came from Goldstein and senior Adam Mizrahi, who scored 14 and 10 points, respectively.  That game clinched a playoff berth, as well as home court in the first round of the playoffs.

“The game against Valley Stream is the biggest game so far,” said Block.  “The playoff berth was something the team had be working for all season, so this victory was a huge accomplishment.”

In the previous two seasons, the Vikings have been unable to finish the season with a winning or even record.  However, this season, with incredible senior leadership and support from younger players, the Vikings have been tearing it up, and they are finishing up the regular season with an impressive record.

It is crucial for this success to translate into the playoffs, where the team has not made it past the first round in over five years.  In 2015, the squad came extremely close to a first round victory, but lost an overtime thriller to MacArthur, 58-56.

Home court in the first round will be essential.  The Schreiber gym has been packed to the brim for the majority of the team’s home games this season, and the crowd pumps up the players and may even intimidate the visiting team.  In the past two years, the Vikings did not have home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.  The loud crowd may provide a spark for the team that could lead to a playoff run.

Many county powerhouses stand in the way of a Vikings playoff run.  Nonetheless, the team has shown that they can compete with outstanding teams both in their conference and others.

On Dec. 13, the Vikings showed that they can compete with top out of conference opponents.  The squad traveled to Great Neck South and won 52-37. This was a statement win, as the team won by a substantial margin against a strong out of conference opponent.

Merriweather scored 22 points, and junior Daniel Dash scored a season high 12 points.  The game was quite close leading into the final quarter, as the Vikings were leading 31-30.  However, the team really came alive in the fourth, scoring an impressive 21 points while holding Great Neck South to just seven points.

Great Neck South has an impressive 11-7 record good for second in Nassau County Conference AA-III, trailing only Calhoun.

The squad has also competed with great teams within their conference, as they came within three points of last year’s county champions Baldwin, and were 12 points away from beating current conference leader Westbury.  Westbury is yet to be defeated by a team within the conference.

Although the Vikings will have home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs, they will not have a first round bye, as only the top four teams in Nassau County class AA get a bye.  The Vikings will play a team with a worse record than them in the first round, as they have clinched a spot in the top eight of Nassau County class AA.

This season, the Vikings have not lost a game to a team with a worse record than them, proving that the first round of the playoffs will be a very winnable game.

The Vikings’ team leaders have really been pushing the squad in practice in order to achieve a peak performance level when the playoffs arrive.

“Right now we just hope to continue progressing and hopefully hit full stride by the time the playoffs start,” said Block.

If this team is able to play at their best during the postseason, they will be hard to stop.  The squad has been preparing for the challenge that the playoffs bring all season, and now they are working even harder during practice in order to achieve their goals in the postseason.

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Boys basketball looks to finish 2017 strong