Grover Cleveland Tigers. Photo by Raynier Calderon
By David Russell
The Grover Cleveland Tigers finished the regular season with an 11-3 record, which is good for first place in the Queens ‘A’ West Division of the PSAL.
This would be impressive under any circumstances, but it’s even sweeter after the Tigers went 6-56 over the last four seasons.
“It’s definitely a big weight off my shoulders,” said head coach Michael Irizarry. “Losing destroys my feelings. I know how hard these kids work to win.”
Irizarry has been the head coach of the Tigers since 2004, prior to which he had led the JV team for a few seasons. Last season, Grover Cleveland finished in last place with a 2-14 record. John Bowne won the division with a 15-1 record and moved to a different division, meaning that the division would be up for grabs, but few thought the Tigers would be in first at this point.
“I was optimistic,” Irizarry said. “I wasn’t expecting to be leading as we are. I thought we were improved. I didn’t realize how much improved.”
There have been a variety of contributors for the Tigers. Senior guard Dqui Berry has averaged 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game. Freshman guard Jason Sanchez has averaged 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game and senior guard/forward Matthew Troche is adding 15 points per game. Junior guard/forward Kacper Maziarz has also been a standout.
“He’s been incredible on defense,” Irizarry said of Maziarz. “He’s a big time stopper and a major rebounder, and forces turnovers.”
And junior guard Matthew Valle piled up assists while shooting three pointers.
Grover Cleveland’s season began with a road win against Forest Hills and, a week later, the Tigers pulled out a two-point win at Flushing. The only losses they suffered were to Newtown, Aviation and Long Island City, three teams they also beat at one point in the season. Cleveland finished the regular season with an 85-80 win over Queens Vocational and Technical High School.
Cleveland finished two games ahead of Flushing Campus and William C. Bryant in the division. The Tigers clinched a playoff spot just one game into the second half of the season with a 7-1 start and then continued the winning streak, with four victories in the final six games.
“We’re firing on all cylinders,” Irizarry said. “The chemistry is there.”