NORTH SALEM, N.Y.— Henry Sassone wasn’t pleased with his team’s practice the day before their quarterfinal matchup with Pawling on Feb. 22.
The veteran coach said they had their worst practice of the year. It sure didn’t show the next day, however.
Second-seeded North Salem made 11 3-pointers on its way to an 80-50 rout of No. 7 Pawling in the Section 1 Class C quarterfinals.
“Coming in today I wasn’t optimistic after the way we worked out yesterday (in practice),” Sassone said. “But we had a good scrimmage down at Saunders and we thought if we could play down there with that kind of speed, it would help us a little bit tonight and I think it did.”
The hot shooting started right from the start.
After Pawling’s David Bellucci opened the game with a three, Miles D’Alessandro answered on the other end with a three of his own. Ryan Donovan knocked down a corner three and Chris Alterio followed him with another three to give North Salem a 9-5 lead midway through the opening quarter.
D’Alessandro, who finished with a game-high 22 points and scored 16 in the first half, splashed two more threes to put North Salem up 15-7 after one quarter.
“Miles played within himself,” Sassone said of D’Alessandro, who had a 102 temperature the morning of the game. “We’ve been turning the ball over a lot at the end of the season. We were playing a little harried and a little pressured. He made it happen for us in the first half and played as well as one could play.”
Donovan delivered another three 40 seconds into the second quarter to make it 18-7 as the Tigers’ first six baskets were 3-pointers.
“We moved the ball really well and we were confident. We just came out with a lot of energy.” said D’Alessandro, who added that they can’t rely on the 3-pointer and have to focus on scoring inside.
The offensive explosion continued as a Timmy Outhouse putback and a John Martabano jumper had the Tigers up 26-11 midway through the second quarter. D’Alessandro made another three and then two free throws, followed by a Kevin Roach jump shot to send North Salem into halftime with a 33-14 lead.
Holding Pawling to 14 first-half points was a feat in itself. Sassone said they did a strong job rebounding and were able to limit Pawling to one shot for most of the first half.
“In the past games, they scored most of their points on the pick and roll,” Donovan said. “We ran a new defense—‘Tiger’—and it just totally disrupted them.”
After defeating Pawling twice in league play during the season, North Salem had an adequate idea of what its opponent was all about and clamped down on them defensively.
“We both knew each other very well,” Sassone said. “I was very concerned going into the game. It’s always tough to beat somebody three times. They played us tough twice. We won by 12 here and won by eight up there a few weeks ago. Anything can happen. But if you’re a playoff team and you want to make some noise, you have to make a statement. And I think we made a statement tonight.”
While D’Alessandro sparked the team in the first half, it was the Donovan show in the third quarter. He scored 12 of his 18 points and made two threes.
“My teammates just found me,” Donovan said. “They were double-teaming so they would kick it out to me. It worked out well.”
Donovan’s three and driving layup gave North Salem a 55-27 lead after three quarters.
“When he’s open he’s going to hit those shots,” D’Alessandro said. “We kept finding him and he did his thing.”
Alterio (nine points), Bryan Gomez (10 points) and Mike Horan (five points) also chipped in for North Salem (15-6).
With the win, the Tigers earned a trip back to the Westchester County Center where it faced No. 6 Keio Academy in the Class C semifinals on March 1.
“We lost there last year and we’re trying to win this year,” Donovan said. “We’re just going to practice hard. It’s a big court, but we have experience there.”
The Tigers gained that experience at the County Center as they played there last year in the semifinals, where they fell to Alexander Hamilton. They also played there earlier this season against Edgemont.
“I like the County Center a lot because it’s bigger, so there’s more space to work,” D’Alessandro said. “It’s definitely going to be easier to play there because we have a better feel for the court. I think we’ll be ready.”
Sassone agreed that the experience playing at the County Center helps tremendously.
“That aura of walking into the County Center for the first time is overwhelming,” Sassone said. “I don’t care how many times you’ve been there. In my 32 years at North Salem we’ve been fortunate and played there a lot. It still takes your breath away when you walk in and see it. I think we’ll be ready for the floor.”
Sassone knows that they can’t get ahead of themselves and look ahead to the championship game. If they defeat Keio they will face the winner between top-seeded Tuckahoe and No. 4 Hamilton at 2 p.m. on March 4.
“Right now we’re not even thinking Gold Ball—we’re thinking Keio because they’re tough,” he said. “If we can beat Keio and possibly face Tuckahoe and (coach) Al Visconti—he’s a heck of a coach and has been there forever like me. It’ll be two old dogs going at it. I think it’ll be a great game if it happens, but right now we’ve got to worry about Keio.”