With Tappan Zee trailing by one in the fourth, Joe Letizia hit a three-pointer, smiled, pounded his chest and crouched down to slap the floor a few times.
Letizia’s shot wasn’t a game-winner, though, and it was only his second bucket of the game. Mostly, he was happy to just be out on the court.
“It’s just energy, man,” the Tappan Zee senior said. “I’m doing it for my family. It just feels so good to pick my guys up right back when I get into it.”
Pearl River would retake the lead less than a minute later, but Tappan Zee pulled away late at home Friday night to beat Pearl River, 55-51.
Letizia got into foul trouble in the first half, committing his third foul early in the second quarter. He sat most of the second and all of the third quarter.
“I couldn’t help but scream from the bench,” he said. “I was getting hype from the bench. It sucks being on the bench with three fouls, but I made the most of it when I got back in there.”
Letizia finished with 12 points, nine coming in the fourth quarter. Pearl River didn’t go quietly in the fourth. Kevin Degnan hit a layup to give the Pirates (5-5) a one-point lead with 3:45 to go in the game. Letizia then scored four straight coming off a jumper and two free throws to give the Flying Dutchmen (6-4) a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Degnan scored on the next Pearl River possession to cut the deficit back down to one, but Tappan Zee’s Eric Casey backed him down on the other end of the floor and hit a shot in the post over Degnan’s out-stretched arm to bring the lead back up to three.
“We came up with some empty possessions offensively,” said Pearl River Head Coach Jerry Houston. “They’ve got some pretty experiences guys between [Eric] Casey and [Joe] Letizia that made big plays down the stretch, whether a blocked shot or a post move or knocking down a shot. It was a case of we just came up empty and they produced on the other end.”
Casey led the Dutchmen in scoring with 16 to go with his 14 rebounds. Luke McLaughlin also scored 12 for Tappan Zee. Kyle Peterson chipped in nine off the bench. Tappan Zee Head Coach George Gaine praised Letizia’s play late, but noted his team didn’t win because of just one player.
“I thought Tommy Morales was an unsung hero on loose balls and 50-50’s,” he said. “Eric Casey’s been phenomenal, and I thought the other guys, like Kyle [Peterson] and Dylan Kelly hit big shots when we needed it. It was a group effort.”
Degnan led the Pirates with 17 points, followed by Tom Davis and Rich Masley, who both scored 13. Davis did his scoring primarily in the first quarter to help Pearl River build a two-point lead. He scored eight of the team’s 13 points in the quarter, including the team’s first five points.
“I don’t think anybody works harder than Tommy Davis," Houston said. "He’s been working hard. I thought he played a terrific game tonight and really did a great job. I really think he set a good tone for us early on.”