Tom Santella realized even before tip-off that opportunities like Thursday’s don’t come along very often.
The Indians’ Nassau Class A quarterfinal against South Side had a little bit of everything for the 6-2 senior forward. He was in the starting lineup with four fellow seniors who had blossomed together into a power this season. It was the final home game of their careers. And a victory would mean a rematch with conference rival Elmont, a team that beat Manhasset twice by a total of five points.
The confluence brought out the best in Santella. He led the fourth-seeded Indians’ surge to the lead and finished with 22 points as Manhasset prevailed over the gritty and quick No. 5 Cyclones, 76-66.
“Our group has been playing together forever and we’ve put it all together this season,” Santella said. “That’s something special you want to keep going.”
It goes on Feb. 27 when the Indians (18-3) meet top-seeded Elmont (16-5) in a 5 p.m. semifinal at Farmingdale State. The later semifinal pits No. 2 Lynbrook (19-2) and No. 3 Valley Stream South (17-4). Manhasset lost to Elmont at home by one on a three-pointer at the buzzer and by four points on the road.
“The loss at home was devastating,” Santella said, “but I think those two games are the reason that everyone on our team wanted to play them one more time.”
Added senior Joe LoCurto, who had 15 points: “we’d like a chance for a little revenge.”
Santella had a quiet first quarter, but was the driving force in the second-quarter run that determined the arc of the game. He had seven points in an 11-0 spurt that put the Indians up 27-19, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. In the run he completed a pair of three-point plays. Later in the game he showed his versatility, backing defenders down in the low block, pulling up for a jumper and even draining a three-pointer.
“He’s very streaky and when he gets rolling, he can do everything,” Manhasset coach George Bruns said. “He’s a boss out there.”
South Side’s Chris Thomas and Quinn Shannon each finished with 13 points. The Cyclones (14-7) twice made runs to cut a margin that reached 15 in the third quarter to eight twice in the fourth, but got no closer.
Indians 6-3 sophomore Ahmad Crowell, who altered or blocked a slew of South Side shots, scored six of his 11 points in the final quarter to seal things.
“We’ve done well because of our experience playing together for a couple seasons,” senior Lou Perfetto said. “Each of us is used to playing a big role, but the chemistry we’ve got together makes all of us better.”