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Alex Merhige, Harborfields stake claim as best team in Suffolk

Brentwood's Tyler Carey finishes a fast break with

Brentwood's Tyler Carey finishes a fast break with a dunk during the second half against Harborfields at Brentwood on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

One team’s perfect start to the young season would come to an end.

And it wasn’t going to be Harborfields’.

Alex Merhige, Mike McDermott and Kyle Stolba came up with clutch efforts down the stretch for the Tornadoes, who completed a late comeback victory at non-league opponent Brentwood on Tuesday afternoon, 63-57.

The exhilarating comeback win improved Harborfields to 6-0.

“It was definitely important,” Merhige said of remaining undefeated. “We’ve faced them before and know what they’re all about.”

“It’s really difficult to win here,” Harborfields coach John Tampori said. “In order to win here you have to have some toughness. And we had a lot of that today.”

Harborfields’ toughness was on full display in the final 1:30. After back-to-back Brentwood layups to tie the score at 54, the Indians (4-1) sought to take the lead on a jump-shot at the free-throw line, which Stolba blocked.

Merhige’s teammates then found him racing down the other end and the senior threw down a thunderous two-handed dunk to give the Tornadoes a two-point lead with 1:18 to go. Merhige was also fouled on the play.

“I saw the defender coming up from far away so I just went for it,” Merhige said of the go-ahead basket. He finished with a game-high 19 points and 12 rebounds, while also adding three blocks.

Merhige missed the ensuing free-throw, but McDermott tipped it in to extend the Harborfields lead to 58-54 with 1:13 remaining.

“The tip-in was really huge,” Tampori said. “Every point was valuable. He just has really good quickness and jumping ability. It was a tremendous play.”

Harborfields then regained possession with a steal. Two free-throws by McDermott gave the Tornadoes a six-point advantage with 51 seconds left and essentially sealed the win. The sophomore recorded 12 points and seven rebounds.

Harborfields got off to a sluggish start, as Brentwood took a 10-0 lead with 4:40 remaining in the first. The Tornadoes fell behind 16-5 two minutes later.

“We started off slow but we knew who we had to lock down and what we had to do to get the win,” said point guard Shane Wagner, who had 13 points and 12 assists.

Harborfields held Brentwood’s Rahmel Allen to just three points in the final quarter after he scored 15 in the first three.

Harborfields came roaring back in the second quarter thanks to a 12-4 run to take a 29-26 lead. The Tornadoes led 31-28 at halftime.

A back-and-forth third quarter highlighted by five lead changes concluded with McDermott converting a tough layup with five seconds left to give the Tornadoes a 48-46 lead entering the fourth.

Then the unblemished record was at stake. And the clutch Harborfields moments began.

“This was a big win,” Wagner said. “It showed the county and Long Island that we’re a team that can really play and show out.”

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