Tappan Zee took an 11-point lead to halftime of Tuesday's boys basketball game in front of a packed house at Pearl River, but Dutchmen Coach George Gaine led his team to the locker room with a warning.
"This is just beginning," Gaine said.
Pearl River took another quarter to prove him right, but junior forward Kevin Degnan scored 16 of his game-high 26 points to spark a fourth-quarter rally that fell short in the Pirates' 42-38 loss to Tappan Zee.
"We knew they were going to make a run," Tappan Zee sophomore guard Luke McLaughlin said.
"It's a gritty win," Gaine said. "We were able to hold on.
McLaughlin sparked Tappan Zee with 15 points, making four three-point shots. He got off to quick starts in the first and third quarters. McLaughlin said making some shots early was key for him after struggling in the Dutchmen's previous game against Ramapo.
"He played great," Gaine said. "We put him in the corner and he knocked down some big shots. He played great defense in the post. He's a sophomore and I thought he really stepped up. It says a lot about him and the way he bounced back after not playing his best game against Ramapo."
"They have guys who can knock down shots," Pearl River Head Coach Jerry Houston, Jr. said. "You have to pick here you are going to help. Obviously, we had to stop helping so much because he was making shots. That's one of the things that makes them tough. You can't zone in on that one kid you have to make sure you stay on and defend on the perimeter."
The Dutchmen (3-2) made eight from beyond the three-point arc. Pearl River (4-2) made only two. Senior point guard Joe Letizia made two 3-pointers and senior Brendan Hauser made a big one as Pearl River tried to rally in the fourth quarter.
Senior forward Eric Casey scored 12 points for Tappan Zee, coming up with some key baskets inside and hitting four free throws late.
Pearl River struggled to find its offense most of the game, scoring only nine points in the first half and trailing 27-16 after three quarters.
"I'd like to say it was just we were missing shots, but I think they had a lot to do with that," Houston said. "They defended well. They made our looks difficult."
Degnan was the only Pirate in double digits. Tappan Zee used both McLaughlin and Casey to defend Degnan while pressuring Pearl River's guards. Gaine said taking the three-point shot away from sophomore Jack Byrnes, who had made four of them in Pearl River's previous game, was a key.
"We definitely pride ourselves on our defense," Casey said. "We work hard on it in practice."
"They have kids who if you leave them open, they will knock shots," Gaine said. "We had to pressure 23 (Byrnes). If you focus too much on Kevin, they can beat you, too."
Degnan showed why an opponent might focus on him so much in the fourth quarter, sparking the Pirates comeback by attacking the basket to score and create more open looks outside for his teammates.
"He did a real good job. He's a special player," Gaine said. "He's a Division I player. We played much harder on him in the first two (quarters). It seemed like he got stronger and we got a little bit tired. But man, he is good."
Degnan's basket with 48 seconds remaining cut Tappan Zee's lead to four at 36-32, but the Pirates could get no closer. The junior forward scored Pearl River's final eight points, including a dunk in the final seconds.
Pearl River also got its only two three-point shots of the game in the final period, one each by Chris Flood and Rich Masley.
"We got confidence," Houston said of his team finding its offense in the fourth quarter. "I think it was getting the ball to the basket a little more. Getting out in transition to get easier baskets. If I had a potion for how to do it sooner, I'd give it to the kids."