After an exhausting week that included a funeral of a man close to the program and a third game in six days, the regular starting five for Suffolk AA champion Half Hollow Hills West was excused from yesterday's Section XI Large School-Small School final at Farmingdale State.
"As coach of this team, I did what I felt was best for our team," Bill Mitaritonna said of his decision not to play Tavon Sledge, Emile Blackman, Chris Cox, Anthony Rollino and Chris Kaimis against Class A champion Harborfields. They sat on the bench in street clothes. "It was a physically and emotionally draining week for us."
On Monday, the entire Hills West team spent several hours at the funeral of Troy "Escalade" Jackson, brother of former Knicks and St. John's star Mark Jackson and uncle of Hills West brothers Emile and Jamir Blackman. On Tuesday, the Colts defeated Floyd, and on Friday they beat West Babylon to win the county AA title for the second straight season.
"After the tough game we had Friday night, our kids were exhausted," Mitaritonna said.
Harborfields, which played Wednesday and Friday, sat two injured starters - Matt McLeod (torn ligaments, right big toe) and Nick Fessenden (concussion). Fessenden will be cleared for Sunday's Long Island Class A final against Manhasset, but McLeod remains questionable.
However, the Tornadoes' other starters - Lucas Woodhouse, JoJo Savaglio and Justin Ringen - played until the game was out of hand in the fourth quarter of Harborfields' 81-51 victory. "I would have played all five starters if they were healthy," coach Chris Agostino said.
Suffolk County executive director of athletics Ed Cinelli wasn't pleased with Mitaritonna's decision, especially because fans paid $6 a ticket assuming they would see Sledge & Co.
"It's a disappointment for the fans that came to see the best players in the county," Cinelli said. "It's unfortunate. This is a Section XI championship game and we promoted it as such. For a number of years it's been a premier game. For [Hills West] not to play its starters is a disappointment to everyone."