Alex Merhige expected to play a more prominent role this season as Harborfields’ only returning starter from its 2016 Suffolk Class A championship team. The 6-4 senior is not only more prominent, he is more dominant. And he’s playing a different role as well.
“I knew I had to step up this year, so I transferred from a big guy to a wing,” Merhige said Thursday after scoring 28 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to lead Harborfields to an 81-41 victory over host Amityville in a battle of previously unbeaten Suffolk V teams.
Merhige, who averages 18.9 points, is the primary reason the Tornadoes (11-0, 6-0) are the only undefeated team on Long Island. “He knows it’s his team this year,” Harborfields coach John Tampori said. “He’s out there facing the basket now and we run stuff for him. He can get to the basket with both hands.”
Merhige is a natural lefty who dribbled, drove and finished with his right hand numerous times Thursday, beginning with a three-point play to open the game. He had 12 points in the first quarter, in which an 11-0 burst helped produce a 26-11 advantage and sent Harborfields on its way to an impressive victory.
The Tornadoes shared the wealth as their new starters — all seniors — continue to shine in their first chance on the marquee. Three others joined Merhige with double-doubles and one of them, Kyle Stolba, had a rare triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Point guard Shane Wagner had 15 points and 10 assists and Joe Kelly added 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Wagner, who effectively broke the Amityville press singlehandedly when the Warriors tried to get back in the game with pressure defense, teamed with Merhige on numerous back-door and give-and-go cuts. “My first option is always to pass,” Wagner said. “One of our main plays is the back-door cut, and that was an easy option tonight. We’re known for our ball movement.”
Defense also is a point of emphasis for the Tornadoes, who went 19-5 last season and won the Suffolk Class A title before losing to eventual state Class A champion Elmont in the Long Island championship game, which Merhige missed because of an injury. Their 2-3 zone forced Amityville (5-1), which got 17 points from Josh Serrano, into turnovers and their advantage on the glass led to transition points in bunches.
“Our defense and rebounding were terrific tonight,” Tampori said. “These kids just follow whatever I tell them to do. They’ll box out, they’ll run, they’ll move the ball.”
Tampori called Wagner “the unsung hero. He’s gutty. He doesn’t get fazed by anything. Serrano was picking him up full-court and he didn’t turn it over once.”
That’s no surprise to Merhige. He may be surrounded by four new starters, but they are familiar faces. “Our starting five has been playing together since the sixth grade, and we’ve done a good job sharing the ball,” he said. “We’re all friends.”