When it comes to expectations, Malverne’s boys basketball team has an apt nickname. These Mules stubbornly refuse to settle for anything less than a trip to the state Final Four at Glens Falls. It’s part of the program’s DNA.
     “We always aim high. We start talking about Glens Falls on the first day of practice,” coach Darrol Lopez said on Friday night, before his team was eliminated one game short of its goal by Burke Catholic of Goshen in the Class B Southeast Region final at Pace University.
     Malverne’s players, coaches and fans must be familiar with every rest stop and fast food chain on the New York State Thruway on the way to Glens Falls. They’ve been there often, including the previous three seasons, beginning with 2007 when they won the State and Federation titles. Lopez knew he was in for a tough one Friday night when he watched Burke take the court. “They’re big,” he said with a laugh. The Eagles were also quick, and that enabled them to beat the Mules at their own game.
     The Mules’ trademark is their fast-pace style. They press, all the time. They run, all the time. Their pedal is to the metal, all the time. Many, if not most, of their points come in defense-offense transition. Quick hands, quick feet, quick points. They are tireless. By design.
     “We don’t even pick up a basketball for the first week of practice,” Lopez said. “We emphasize constant movement. Agility drills. Defensive slides. Syracuses [a.k.a. wind sprints]. We never stop running. Everything is geared to stamina and endurance. We like to think we own the fourth quarter.”
     It helped this season that Dashawn Moorer emerged as one of the Island’s most dangerous scorers. He had a 56-point game back in December, but he never turned into just a shooter, despite his impressive three-point range and accuracy. “He could always shoot the three,” Lopez said, “and last year we just put him in the corner. This year, he did his scoring in the flow of the offense.”
     Unfortunately, Moorer didn’t have much help, which made the 2009-10 season one of Lopez’s better coaching jobs. The veteran coach, son of former Yankee Hector Lopez, said he’s hoping to appeal Malverne’s class placement next year, when Nassau County abandons its ability-based grouping in favor the more traditional enrollment-based leagues. “I’m hoping they’ll let us play up,” Lopez said.
     He knows Malverne will always play up-tempo.