Plainview JFK guard Brendan Fitzpatrick expected things to be tight for Wednesday night’s game at Valley Stream Central. And he wasn’t talking about the score.
The Valley Stream Central gymnasium is a tiny, ancient throwback gym, with plenty of character and quirks. There is virtually no out of bounds space along one side of the court, where the wall is lined with wrestling mats. The other side of the court features a balcony and instead of chairs on the court, the players from both teams climb a step or two and sit side-by-side in rows of stone bleachers.
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“It’s a very hard place to play. It’s hot. It’s tight. It’s compact. The fans are right on top of you and it’s loud,” Fitzpatrick said. “You’ve got to play through it.”
Fitzpatrick shook off a shaky first half, in which two early fouls limited his playing time, to score 15 of his 18 points in the second half as Plainview JFK defeated VSC, 55-45, in the Nassau AA-II opener for both teams.
Fitzpatrick opened up the third quarter with a three-point play on a drive down the lane and ended it with a coast-to-coast drive that produced a 40-25 lead. He scored nine points in the game-turning third quarter. “I wanted to put the team on my back after a bad first half,” Fitzpatrick said. “My shot was off today so I attacked the basket more.”
Fellow senior guard Thomas Flynn stepped up when Fitzpatrick sat down, scoring 10 of his 18 points in the first half, mixing in an on-target jumper with some tough drives, as the Hawks utilized an appropriate-for-the-setting old-school weave on offense that left the back door open for some easy baskets. Jermaine Fraser led VSC with 11 points.
“The weave slows us down, gets us moving and takes some time off the clock,” Plainview JFK coach Mike Harris said. “It also keeps teams honest on Fitzpatrick. He makes things happen with the ball in his hands.”
And when the ball wasn’t in Fitzpatrick’s hands, it was in Flynn’s. “He’s always been a good shooter but he played a complete game tonight,” Harris said. “He had huge minutes when Fitz got those two fouls and got some points going to the basket.”
Of the close quarters, Harris said, “We prepared for this place in practice because we come here every year. We like to make long passes in transition, but those won’t be there here because the court is shorter and narrower.”
At least the contest wasn’t too tight.