Nick Grathwohl has been the headline grabber this season for Suffolk Class C champion Southold, leading the team in scoring at a near 20-point -per-game clip. The senior guard’s shots, however, were not falling early as the First Settlers faced Suffolk Class D champ Smithtown Christian in the first game of the tournament to crown the county’s overall champion.
And it was in that moment that Southold showed there is far more to its team than the dynamic Grathwohl. Juniors Nick DeNicola and John Kaelin picked up the slack, totaling 14 first-half points and giving the Settlers a big early lead Wednesday afternoon en route to defeating the Knights, 51-30, at Centereach High School.
The Settlers (14-8) will meet the Class B champ Center Moriches on Saturday at Walt Whitman High School.
“We don’t come into a game thinking that Nick’s not going to score,” DeNicola said. “We’ve got to step up, though, if he’s not. We all pick each other up at the end of the day — like we’re supposed to.”
DeNicola had six of his 11 points as Southold (14-8) built the lead to 20-10 early in the second quarter. Kaelin had eight of his 10 points as the Settlers extended their advantage to 26-14 at halftime. Coming into the game, DeNicola was averaging 5.5 points and Kaelin 2.3 points, according to scores reported to Newsday.
In the second half Grathwohl found his shot and scored 12 of his game-high 14 points as the Settlers continued to pull away.
DeNicola also had five assists, Kaelin eight rebounds and Grathwohl six rebounds for Southold.
Senior forward Josh Rivers had nine points and 13 rebounds for the Knights (9-11), but the Settlers limited Smithtown Christian’s other big scorers — senior forward Gabe Gibson and junior guard Josh Mangum — to a combined 11 points.
Southold considers the time before its state tournament/Long Island championship game on March 10 against Nassau’s East Rockaway an opportunity to grow into the best team it can be.
Coach Lucas Grigonis installed some new looks for his defense, and some modifications to the Settlers' offense created more scoring options.
“We wanted some new scenarios where some of our players are in more favorable situations to score,” he said. “It’s about being more diverse and not being as reliant on Nick.”
That’s not the only way Southold is improving itself leading into the state tourney. Senior swingman Steven Russell, who was expected to be part of a 1-2 punch with Grathwohl, has been limited to only eight games by a leg injury. He averaged 14 points and could return in time to face the Rocks.
“He’s a senior and a four-year player for us,” Grigonis said. “It would be great for him and for our team if he can get back.”