Ethan Meisel, Commack beat Smithtown West to get to first Suffolk Class AA final
Inside the Commack locker room the decibel level of the merriment was enough to make one wince. Breakthrough victories deserve such celebrations.
The Cougars’ program reached a height that it never had before on Tuesday night when it closed its Suffolk Class AA semifinal against top-seeded Smithtown West with an impressive final two minutes to pull out a 48-43 win at Longwood.
No. 4 Commack (20-3) will play in the county title game for the first time when it clashes with seventh-seeded Brentwood (16-7) at Stony Brook on Saturday. The Cougars won both meetings in the regular season.
Commack senior Ethan Meisel, who was a freshman when the Cougars fell to Northport on the same floor in its last try to reach the final, took an entry pass from Matthew Rosenoff and the 6-3 forward banked in a short one-hander to snap a tie at 43 with 1:58 left. Commack then used a combination of tight man-to-man defense, good ball control and clutch offensive rebounding to keep the Bulls (19-3) off the scoreboard the rest of the way. It was a true ensemble effort with five Cougars scoring between seven and 12 points.
“Ever since losing this game as a freshman, I’ve wanted to feel this feeling,” said Meisel, who had a team-high 12 points. “We spent a lot of time down in (the game), but never let our heads down.”
"Wining a game like this is about hunger and he has it,” Cougars coach Peter Smith said. “Ethan has it and his basket kind of brings things full circle for us.”
Smithtown West went up 36-26 with about five minutes left in the third quarter on a Ben Rappa basket.
“Coming back and winning this game was really a testament to our mentality,” said Michael Gitz, who scored 11 points. “We could have given up but we stayed strong. We won the mental game tonight.”
While Smithtown West goes by “Bulls,” its nickname should maybe be “The Magicians.” The team was a behemoth before losing 6-8 star Patrick Burke to a knee injury at the start of the month. They completely remade themselves — played an entirely different style — and won out to clinch the top seeding.
However, they not only were without the best big man in the Island’s public school ranks, as Meisel explained of his late basket, “If he’s in the game, I don’t even take that shot.”
Nicholas Waga added 10 points for Commack.
Jack Melore had 15 points for Smithtown West but was 0-for-4 on three-point attempts after Commack went to the man-to-man in the fourth quarter. Lorenzo Rappa scored 12.
Gitz and Chris McHugh sealed the win for the Cougars. Gitz went to the line for a one-and-one with a three-point lead and 10.0 seconds to play and missed the front end, but McHugh tapped the rebound back and Gitz collected it. He was fouled and made both ends with 8.2 seconds left to make it a two-possession game.
“(McHugh) has been coming up big like that all season,” Gitz said. “When the ball came to me, I knew I was done missing free throws. I knew we were going to go home a winner.”