SHRUB OAK, N.Y. – Lakeland’s Augie Karaqi has enjoyed a great career wearing the Hornets’ uniform, and he made sure that his last home game would be a winning effort.
The senior scored a game-high 18 points in No. 5 Lakeland’s 59-41 triumph against visiting No. 12 Clarkstown South in the opening round of the Section 1 Class A Tournament on Friday, Feb. 21.
The win was Lakeland’s first in the opening round since 2009, the last time the Hornets played in the championship game.
“We’ve made a lot of great memories here these past two years,” Karaqi said. “I’m sad to see it go, but it was a great game. I’m glad I was able to be part of this program for many years.”
A jumper by Karaqi gave Lakeland a 10-9 first-quarter lead.
“That was huge,” Karaqi said. “We were able to come out well offensively and defensively. My teammates took trust in me to knock down shots.”
Lakeland broke a 15-15 tie in the second quarter, by going on a 15-3 run to go up 30-18 before leading 30-21 at halftime.
The last eight of those points on that run came from Karaqi, including two baskets from downtown.
The offense on that Hornets’ run was kickstarted by great defensive play.
“Coach talks about it all the time; defense is the biggest part of this game,” Karaqi said.
Defense was indeed a huge part of the Lakeland victory and on the 15-3 run. One of the biggest moments of that run was when Aidan Welcome (5 points) took a charge.
Welcome’s charge excited the Hornets, as each player on the team and coaching staff exploded off their sideline chairs to celebrate.
“That’s huge, because we don’t take a lot of charges,” said Lakeland coach Steve Fallo. “We preach every day in practice to take the charge, let somebody step up and take charges. We don’t have a lot of charges. So, when it happens, that changed the momentum and it made a big difference, for us.”
Jeffrey Owusu (10 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals) helped ignite Lakeland’s defensive effort, which was truly a team one.
“Defensively, we were awesome,” Fallo said. “I couldn’t be prouder of how they played defensively. That’s something we have strived for since day one.”
That was when the Hornets lost their opener, 84-70, to visiting Arlington, in the opening round of the Relay for Life Tournament, on Dec. 5.
“When we gave up 84 points to Arlington, we knew we could score, but we can’t give up 70, 80 points, and be competitive,” Fallo said. “So, we made the commitment to become a defensive team, along with being a good offensive team.”
Lakeland also made a great run to end the third quarter, scoring the last seven points in it, including back to back three-pointers by Welcome and Jack Kruse (10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks). Those two bombs finished the quarter, putting the Hornets up 47-30.
“We know we can get hot at any time, so it’s more being patient when it happens,” Kruse said. “Just have to take the energy and run with it.”
Rob Nardelli (9 points), Mike Arcure (5 points), and James Apostolou (2 points) earned their way into the box score for the Hornets.
“The last three years have been great,” said Kruse, a senior captain. “There’s nothing I want more than to be able to play on this court, to be able to go out with a win, especially in a playoff game, is a great feeling.”
Kevin Keegan, Reed Thompson, Brian Cummins, Logan Shiland, Andrew Mendel, Tyler Ronk, David Pinkowsky, David Mula, Jason Portella, Anthony Jennings and Steven Dedvukaj also are part of the Hornets’ playoff roster.
Lakeland was scheduled to play at No. 4 Poughkeepsie, the defending state Class A champion, in the quarterfinals, on Wednesday, Feb. 26.