There's a different feeling around the Ward Melville basketball program this year.
Friday night, the Patriots came from behind to defeat Deer Park, 56-52, in overtime in the final of the Cougar Classic at Centereach. The victory was the fourth straight to open the season and one more than the team managed all of last season.
"It feels awesome," said senior guard Kyle Lombardo, who scored four points in overtime. "We've had a rough couple years."
Lombardo drilled a three-pointer early in overtime to put the Patriots up 52-49 and later iced the game with a free throw. He completed the scoring with his 14th point of the night on a free throw with 10 seconds remaining that gave the Patriots a two-possession lead.
"I missed the first one . . . " Lombardo said when asked if hitting it was a relief.
"Well, it was a relief for me," cut in Tyler Hegarty. The junior center also provided plenty of relief, earning tournament MVP honors with 19 points and 13 rebounds. His final basket, a layup in overtime, gave the Patriots a 54-49 lead.
"He's a rebound machine," Lombardo said. "Double-doubles every night."
Deer Park led 37-23 in the third quarter, but Ward Melville answered with a 23-5 run in the third and fourth quarters. Sophomore guard John Edmonds hit a free throw to give WM its first lead at 43-42. Lombardo followed with a three-pointer to extend the lead to four.
"[Lombardo] settles us down," coach Jesse Smith said. "He's our best outside threat."
Deer Park later took the lead back at 47-46 on a layup from Ike Lee, but WM's Mike Harris tied it with a free throw. James Davis made a steal and then hit two free throws to give Deer Park its final lead. Lombardo hit a pair of free throws with just over a minute left to force overtime.
Deer Park (1-1) had a chance to win it at the end of regulation, but Davis missed a three-pointer as time expired. Deer Park's Troy Corbin had beat the buzzer with jumpers in the second and third quarters.
Deer Park rolled to an early lead behind eight first-half points each from Davis and Marques Charlton. They each finished with 15 points.
"We just said we're a lot better team that we were in the first half," Smith said.
Added Hegarty: "It was great in that the whole team battled back together."
That battle was shown in the face of senior Curtis Williams, who chipped his tooth going after a loose ball earlier in the game. Williams smiled and said the injury was no big deal.
Unbeaten Ward Melville, on the other hand, just might be a big deal.