The South Side Cyclones held a slim five-point lead with about three minutes left in their semifinal playoff matchup against the Hewlett Bulldogs, and once again, a stiff Cyclones defense and clutch free throw shooting keyed a 12-3 run to close out Hewlett, 57-46 at SUNY Old Westbury on Tuesday.
South Side will play Jericho in the Nassau County Class A final on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Hofstra University.
With South Side up 45-40 in the fourth quarter and the Bulldogs in the midst of an 8-2 run, senior guard DJ Nickelson took a charge on a driving Harrison Brenner. The offensive foul quelled Hewlett's run, and the Cyclones knocked down 10 of 12 free throws in the game's closing minutes to finish off the Bulldogs.
"I thought we came out with great energy," said Head Coach Gerry D'Angelo. "We made some key free throws in the end and made some good defensive stops."
In what was a see-saw battle filled with offensive runs and clutch shooting, the Hewlett Bulldogs shot poorly from the charity stripe. A 13-2 run spanning the second and third quarters pulled Hewlett within two at 28-26, but that was as close as they would get. The Bulldogs missed 11 free throws (4-for-15) in the loss.
When asked what he would say to his team after the loss, Hewlett Head Coach Bill Dubin frankly said, "Make free throws."
For South Side, it was a team win filled with clutch shooting and great defense. Four of the team's five starters combined for 55 of South Side's 57 points. Ryan Spadaford finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds; Darren Nickelson had 16 points, 6 assists and 4 steals; Kevin Coyle had 11 points and Robert Picchione finished with 10 points.
With a senior filled roster, D'Angelo said experience helps in playoff games, but sometimes it's a matter of getting hot.
"When you get to this kind of level, experience is great, but you want to have kids clicking at the right time," he said.