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Elmont-Garden City a battle for A-I supremacy

For Elmont, the pressure has mounted with each consecutive boys basketball conference championship.

The Spartans have won six straight conference titles, dating back to their last sojourn in Class A in 2010. The last five came in Nassau AA-III, and with a win in Saturday’s 5 p.m. game at Garden City, Elmont (11-1) would take a one-game lead in Nassau A-I with one game remaining.

“It means a lot to us, the tradition at Elmont,” senior guard Travis Robinson-Morgan said. “If you’re not winning, then you’re frowned upon. We have to handle business.”

A loss would end the streak.

Garden City (11-1) beat Elmont, 68-65, on Jan. 9. The Trojans would hold the tiebreaker over the Spartans by sweeping the season series, meaning a win Saturday would secure the program’s first conference title since 2007.

“This is a really special opportunity for us,” Garden City senior guard Joe Leighton said, “especially against a team like Elmont.”

Garden City finished second in Nassau A-I last year. That boded well for the future, despite the graduations of a few key pieces. The Trojans returned Leighton -- their leading scorer, who has raised his average from 13.8 points a year ago to 22.1 -- and seniors Brian Leggett and John Wotczak and sophomore Kevin McNiff entered the starting lineup after gaining valuable experience as rotation players last year.

The Trojans knew they would be good in 2015-16, but they did not fully comprehend their potential until they won at Elmont.

“Pulling that off and being able to get through that team really showed us we were a team that could contend,” Leighton said.

Robinson-Morgan and Elmont coach George Holub credited Garden City’s talent and teamwork for that victory, but both felt their team came out flat.

“We took them lightly in the beginning of the game and we didn’t play as hard as we could have played,” said Robinson-Morgan, who leads the team with 18.2 points per game. “They definitely got our respect and our attention.”

On the other side, Garden City knew exactly what to expect from Elmont.

“We didn’t walk in very cocky,” coach James Hegmann said. “We stuck to the game plan. We played well. We played hard and stuck together.”

It’s safe to say Elmont will try to start stronger the second time around. “We’re focused since that loss,” Robinson-Morgan said. “We’ve been practicing extra hard.”

Even without the revenge factor, the stakes would be high.

“To put another number up on the banner,” Holub said, “that’s something you can never take away. The conference championship, that’s always going to be there. It cements the team’s place in history.”

Garden City, meanwhile, has not added to its banner in some time. But the Trojans want a conference title just as much.

Said Leighton, “That’s been our goal.”

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