NEW PALTZ, N.Y. -- They left at 7 a.m. on a four-hour bus trip to SUNY-New Paltz -- site of the state Class D Southeast Regional final of the boys basketball tournament. It was a historical ride for the Shelter Island team -- making its first appearance at this level of the state tournament.
The Indians had earned the opportunity after winning their first Suffolk League title since 1995 and following that achievement with a state tournament win over Clark Academy of Westchester in a regional semifinal on Tuesday. This was certainly uncharted territory for Shelter Island, only one win away from the state semifinals in Glens Falls.
The team that galvanized the small island community that sits between the North and South Forks on the East End of Long Island was on its way to the state Regional championship game. They ferried to the North Fork and then caravaned almost 200 miles to New Paltz in the shadow of the snowy Mohonk Mountains to meet Coleman Catholic, a private school from the Kingston area.
Shelter Island's magical ride toward a state title came to a halt when Coleman Catholic used a 14-2 run to open the third quarter and went on to a 73-46 win before 600 fans at the SUNY New Paltz. Coleman's Kevin Davis, who finished with 19 points, keyed the spurt with two of his five three-pointers.
"We had to play our best game and we didn't come close to that," Shelter Island coach Mike Mundy said. "We didn't close out their shooters and they were very tough defensively. We lost to a super team."
Shelter Island's large travel party gave the players and coaches a monstrous standing ovation when the final horn sounded. It was as much a gesture of appreciation as it was an emotional send-off for the long ride home. The fan support was not lost on sophomore Tristan Wissemann, the team's leading scorer, who was held to one basket late in the first half and finished with eight points.
"Our community is awesome and that was an emotional moment for all of us," Wissemann said. "And this isn't a one year thing. This team set the bar for future Shelter Island teams. We'll be back."
It was apparent early that Coleman Catholic (16-4) was very athletic, enjoyed a quick pace and played lockdown defense. Shelter Island (12-11) opened the scoring at 41 seconds and was held scoreless until the final 23 seconds of the quarter and trailed, 17-6.
"They were very quick, very disciplined," senior Matt BeltCappellino said. "We had a slow start and that put us in a huge hole. And when we put bodies on them and played physical we got in foul trouble."
Coleman Catholic, buoyed by two Davis three-pointers and six points from Micah Simmons-Smalls, extended the lead to 35-19 at the half.
"I never thought we were out of it," Mundy said. "One of our trademarks was that we were a comeback team. But give them credit, the defense never let us get on a big run."
Coleman Catholic also had the hot hand to start the third quarter. The Statesmen used a 14-3 run for a commanding 49-22 lead to put this one away. The defense collapsed in the paint and forced Shelter Island to shoot from the perimeter. Doug Terrone and Dino Celadon had three blocks apiece in the third quarter.
"This has truly been our greatest season," Mundy said. "We've accomplished so much this season. I'm proud of these guys."