Half Hollow Hills West's Vince Corso (33) gets around Whitman's...

Half Hollow Hills West's Vince Corso (33) gets around Whitman's Vladimir Jean Baptiste (11) in the third quarter during on Wednesday Dec 6, 2023. Credit: Bob Sorensen

As Half Hollow Hills West boys basketball coach Bill Mitaritonna graced the home-court sidelines for the first time in more than six years, it was a reminder of just how taxing the job is.

Mitaritonna coached at Hills West from 2000-17, winning Long Island Class AA championships in 2010 and 2011. He stepped down in 2017 to watch his three kids play high school sports but welcomed the opportunity to return when it presented itself in October.

Mitaritonna’s Colts showed the resiliency needed to compete Wednesday, pressuring Whitman all game and clawing back from a 10-point halftime deficit for a 51-47 non-league win at Hills West.

“I don’t remember how exhausting it was, to come back in a game like this,” Mitaritonna said. “But it was fun. It was fun to be back in the sideline and watching the kids develop within one game. They really took the adjustments we made at halftime and all of the sudden, they made it work.”

Forward Vince Corso and guard Jesse Brooks led Hills West (1-1) with 11 points apiece.

It was all Whitman early, with guard Andrew Blair’s 10 first-half points lifting the Wildcats (0-1) to a 32-22 halftime lead. Corso, the most physical player on the floor despite being just a sophomore, had seven first-quarter points but two early fouls limited him for the rest of the half.

Hills West found a spark during halftime, outscoring Whitman 17-9 in the third quarter to cut its overall deficit to 41-39 entering the fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t so much what I said,” Mitaritonna said. “It was the passion of going out there and playing Hills West help-side defense, we didn’t do that in the first half. When we play great help-side, we get runouts and we get good opportunities, and our leaders stepped up.”

Brooks’ old-fashioned three-point play with 5:44 left — a tough layup plus the foul — gave Hills West a 44-43 lead, its first since it was 3-2 about one minute into the game. Corso’s presence was a huge factor on both ends, and Hills West held its lead until the final buzzer.

“[Mitaritonna] has us running, has us playing, has us going, and I’m happy he’s back,” Corso said. “I’m very happy he’s back. He’s definitely lifting the program back up and giving us the respect we need.”

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