EASTCHESTER — So exactly how long has it been?
That question had bounced around Eastchester leading up to last Tuesday’s Class A quarterfinal. The community settled on 1971, so when the drought finally ended with a win over Pelham, the town was ready to celebrate.
Eager students were restrained from storming the court. Parents, teachers and fans waited in the gym lobby for players, who were saluted like heroes upon bursting through the doors.
“We went to Mickey Spillane’s after,” junior Jack Daly said, referencing the local Irish pub. “I think half the town of Eastchester was there. It was a big party.”
In truth, it has been 39 years — not 42 — since the Eagles last made the short drive to the Westchester County Center. A few phone calls confirmed the school’s boys basketball team reached Section 1’s pinnacle in 1974, but the date’s elusiveness only underscored how long Eastchester has sat in the waiting room.
“We didn’t want to do it just for ourselves, but for everybody else in the community,” Daly (pictured above, center) said. “We made history.”
A win over Poughkeepsie in Wednesday night’s semifinals would etch this season even more clearly into program lore. The Pioneers, the No. 3 seed, enter the final four as the favorite after returning all but two players from last year’s runner-up. They have won 17 of 18, including a 70-59 win over the Eagles on Dec. 15.
But, at 19-1, second-seeded Eastchester doesn’t believe in inevitability. If it did, this season would be over by now.
Consider that in his first 13 seasons, coach Fred DiCarlo never advanced past the first round. His Eagles finally reached the quarterfinals the last two, nearly beating Poughkeepsie at home last year before fading in the final two minutes.
“Everything we’ve been doing the whole year was to get to the County Center,” said junior forward Mike Milo (pictured above, right), who transferred home after two years at Fordham Prep. “Now that we’re there, we’re going to try and win the two games and move on from there.”
Eastchester has reason for its optimism. Its only loss was characterized by an atypical lack of aggression. Fearing Poughkeepsie’s athleticism, DiCarlo scrapped the fast-paced, pressing style he adopted in the offseason that deploys an 11- or 12-man rotation and earned him coach-of-the-year honors from his peers.
The Eagles will revert to their usual style in the rematch and hope for a better result.
“I still think we have to be smart with it,” DiCarlo said. “We’ll see how the game goes, but we’re going to start with it.”
Daly, one of the section’s top guards, and freshman guard Benny Dimirco are the only basketball-first athletes in the rotation. The rest — mostly football, baseball and soccer players — shuffle through the lineup to remain fresh.
“At the beginning, it was kind of a weird transition,” said Kevin Teahan (pictured above, left), one of only four seniors in the rotation. “Coach just preached to us that if we’re going to go 10, 11, 12 guys deep and play the style he wanted to play, we’re going to need to move guys in and out to conserve energy.”
Daly’s skill, versatility and leadership seem to glue all those pieces in place. He has been the team’s primary orchestrator since joining the varsity as a freshman.
Daly’s maturity is partly a byproduct of tragedy. His father, John, died suddenly of a heart attack when Jack was in fifth grade.
John had coached all of the juniors in CYO to that point.
“It’s made me stronger,” Daly said. “I’ve realized that that’s the hardest thing you could have to go through in life. If I can get through that, turning the ball over or missing a shot is nothing.”
Inevitably, the Eagles will have to endure those mistakes Wednesday night. Highs or lows — after nearly four decades of early exits — there’s nowhere they’d rather confront them.