Boys Varsity Basketball Battled for Best Season in 51 Years


Rocco Law

Chris Smith (Senior) shoots a free throw during the Coaches vs Cancer tournament championship

Rocco Law, Staff Writer

In the last four years, Mepham athletics has soared historically, having many of its programs break the record books and run the table with the rest of the county. To name a few, in 2018 Boys Varsity Soccer went on a miracle run and stunned our long time foe Garden City in the County Final thanks to an early goal by former All American Forward Andrew Weiner. His goal led to a first ever appearance in the LIC. And, who could forget after so many years starting from the ‘90s, the Varsity Softball program had always hit a roadblock when the postseason came around, especially in 2018, when they lost in heartbreaking fashion in the third game of the County Final to Carey. But, in the following season in 2019, they were undefeated in conference play and never lost a game leading up to their momentous first County Championship win in school history. 

For the Varsity Basketball program however, history has been hard to come by in the last 50 years. 1969 seems like an eternity, but it was the last time the program was praised for an outstanding season up on the banners. The program has endured five decades of blank seasons, while barely even scratching the postseason surface. A glimpse of hope shined down from the clouds, when change of play style and exciting player personnel joined the team during the 2018-19 season. High profile transfers included Freshman Richie Vaquero and Sophomore Mekhi Beckett who made the Pirates more dynamic in play style and heavily relied on up tempo offense. This Pirate team was certainly different than Head Coach Patrick Fallon’s teams in years past in his 18 year tenure as the Head Coach Patrick Fallon arguably has had his best seasons in the last two years head. After a strong showing last season, which included a playoff win against reeling MacArthur at home, the Pirates were seasoned and ready to make a push towards the history books, even without All County and Senior leader Kieran Gilroy. 

To begin the 2019-20 season, the Pirates were returning a battle hardened core of players and some solid young role players. All Conference point guard Sophomore Richie Vaquero would be the Pirates’ running and gunning playmaker. All Conference small forward Senior Greg Paul would lead the perimeter shooting; easily a top five scorer in the County center Junior Mekhi Beckett brought a strong downlow paint presence which few could contend with in Nassau. And Senior Jack Fontanetta gave the Pirates a reliable three point specialist. 

The Pirates finished the 2019-20 season with a 15-6 overall record, 9-5 in conference A1 play, and appeared in their first quarterfinal appearance in almost half a century. The Pirates were hot in the early part of the season but had hiccups against the usual suspects: MacArthur, Long Beach, and Calhoun. Given that Long Beach was undefeated and very dominant, we will give a pass for those losses even though the first matchup was heavily favored towards the Pirates. These winnable games that ended in the loss column for the Pirates occurred due to not taking lower seeds seriously enough and most importantly blown leads. You can’t let games slip from under you when you have a lead, especially on your home court. Long Beach was the eventual A1 title winner, but there is no doubt that the Pirates could have won big in 2020: the talent and player IQ on this team was beyond extraordinary. 

The playoffs looked like a likely outlet for the Pirates to vent their regular season frustrations. They were named an 11 seed heading into the 2020 Class A postseason and would face #6 Valley Stream South on the road.  However, this Pirates team should not have been an 11 seed, not a chance. But the Pirates didn’t care what the county thought of them and stunned the V.S.S. Falcons on the road 56-53 in a nailbiter for the ages. Beckett and Vaquero combined for 17 fourth quarter points to spark the huge win. After upsetting the Falcons, the Pirates travelled to the hostile crowds of Southside in the Class A Quarterfinals. The Pirates fought tooth and nail all game long and never let the opposing lead get past five points. Vaquero led the Pirate scoring output with 17 points, one of his most effective performances the sophomore has had in the maroon and white. Meanwhile, Beckett looked like Kobe Bryant, making the difficult shots that kept the nailbiter so close. The Pirates up one with 40 seconds left let the minuscule lead slip away when the referees called a surprising foul on Paul which was seen as a bailout and allowed the Cyclones to take a one point lead while shutting out the Pirates down the stretch to seal the heartbreaking 59-54 loss in Rockville Centre, ending their season. 

The Pirates captured another season of excitement, something the school has not witnessed in 51 years. Yet back to back years the Pirates have had teams that could have surely won their respective conferences and had deep playoff runs, yet neither happened. The Pirates will have four high award nominations, uncommon to see from the program.

While this was an uncommon season the program will not see for quite some time, the members of this year’s team’s hard work and accomplishments will be remembered long after they are gone. Most specifically putting Mepham’s boys varsity basketball back on the map.