Tappan Zee guard Joe Letizia hit a three-pointer on the first possesion of Wednesday night’s quarterfinal playoff game against Pearl River.
The Dutchmen never lost that lead.
For good measure, Letizia hit another three on Tappan Zee’s third possession to give the Dutchmen a 6-0 lead en route to a 54-39 win at home against Pearl River.
“Coach said that he just wanted us to feel the game out early,” Letizia said. “I guess that wasn’t really the gameplan.”
Tappan Zee Head Coach George Gaine they were looking to get Letizia get going early.
The Pirates (14-7) cut the lead down to five after a Kevin Degnan lay-up made it 10-5 Tappan Zee with about four minutes to go in the first. That was the closest Pearl River got for the remainder of the game, as top-seeded Tappan Zee (20-0) went on a run, leading by nine at the end of the first quarter.
The Dutchmen built up the lead in the first thanks to solid shooting, including three three-pointers, which is one more than the Pirates made all game.
“Even at 18-9, I felt like it was still okay because they shot the ball very well in the first quarter. Eventually, I hoped things would level out a bit and the game would settle a little bit,” said Pearl River Coach Jerry Houston, Jr. “That never really happened. We wound up playing from behind the entire game and really couldn’t string any offensive possession together where we really were able to get any momentum.”
The Dutchmen dominated the second quarter, doubling their lead to 18 points at the half. Although Tappan Zee led by 20 after three quarters, Pearl River opened the fourth on an 8-0 run to cut the deficit down to 12. The Dutchmen never let Pearl River get within 11 in the fourth, though.
“Offensively, they throttled down a little bit as far as they were looking to run some clock, which you would obviously do with a lead,” Houston said. “Maybe in the process of doing that, they slowed down a little bit. It’s not like the lead got to five or anything like that. They were able to keep us a very comfortable distance away.”
The only real scare for Tappan Zee late came with 5:42 to go in the game, when center Brendan Donohue took a hard fall and remained on the court in pain for a couple of minutes. After the trainers checked on him, he walked off on his own. Gaine said Donohue had some back spasms, but expects Donohue will be ready for the next round.
“He’s a tough kid,” Gaine said. “We’ve got the best trainer in the section, so she’s going to work some magic.”
Letizia led scorers with 15, even though he sat for stretches of the second half due to foul trouble. The Tappan Zee point guard said he was just “shooting with confidence, just thinking everything’s going in.”
Even with the game-high 15, Letizia’s biggest contribution to the win might’ve come on the other side of the ball. On the defensive end, Letizia mostly guarded Joe Clinton, Pearl River’s hottest offensive player over the past few weeks. Letizia held Clinton to just five points.
Letizia said that while Clinton beat him into the paint a few times and hit a tough three-pointer early in the game, he was just trying to keep the Pearl River point guard in front of him.
“[Letizia] doesn’t get the credit he deserves. It’s sad,” Gaine said. “He had 15 tonight, he had 19 two nights ago, and if it’s bad to be a defensive player and a leader, then I want to be bad.”
The win sends Tappan Zee to the County Center for the semifinals, where it will face defending Class A champion Byram Hills Wednesday. Last year at the semifinals at the County Center, Pearl River knocked Tappan Zee out of the playoffs.
“It was a tough one, but we were saying all week we’re not going to lose this game,” Letizia said. “It just feels good to beat them.”
This was actually the third time this year the Dutchmen have beat the Pirates, with Tappan Zee earning wins on Dec. 16 and 20.
Degnan led the Pirates with 13 points, followed by Tom Davis’ 12 points and Clinton’s five.
After Letizia, Billy O’Shea score 12 for the Dutchmen, followed by 11 from Donohue and eight by Patrick Peterson.
“They’re very well balanced, so you’ve got to defend the interior as well as the perimeter,” Houston said. “And that’s what makes them such a good team is that they’re so well-balanced and you can’t just focus on one or two kids. All five kids are capable of hurting you.”