By Andrew Rudansky
If one thing was proven this basketball season, it was that the Pierson Whalers know how to play defense. The Port Jefferson Royals (5-9) now know this first hand, after they lost to the Whalers in a, 36-35, grueling overtime Class C playoff game on Friday, January 17 at 7 p.m.
Pierson flew into the playoffs with a second place record of 10-4, using their defensive talents and ability to sink 3-pointers to roll over their opponents.
All year long they held their League VIII opponents to an average of just 46.2 points per game (ppg), all the while scoring an average of 50.9 ppg.
Pierson finished with several signature wins this season, including a close 49-45 win at Stony Brook against the first place Bears on February 13, and a 73-57 blowout over their cross-turnpike rivals, the Bridgehampton Killer Bees, at home on January 27.
Port Jefferson, a league VII team, struggled against bigger schools like Southampton and Hampton Bays, but still gained enough Class C wins to earn the third seed in the playoffs.
Friday’s game against the Royals was a first round playoff game for the Suffolk County Class C Championship.
The Whalers struck first in the matchup, scoring 4 unanswered points on unguarded layups. Port Jefferson quickly fired back, leading to a close back-and-forth struggle during the first half. While many of Pierson outside shooters were quiet, they went just 2-10 from behind the arc, sophomore point guard Ian Barrett lifted the team by driving through the lane.
Barrett led the team in scoring in the game with 13 points, adding 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal.
Inside, senior forward Sam Miller and sophomore forward Loesch were able to do some damage at the post. Miller led the team in rebounds with 7, adding in 8 points, while Loesch finished the day with 5 rebounds and 7 points.
During the game, the whole team was dominant on the glass, snatching 30 rebounds total, with five separate players grabbing at least five of them.
Conversely the Royals were having trouble penetrating Pierson’s close man defense. They were, however, having no trouble with their outside shot, scoring most of their points in the first half off of 3-pointers and long 2s.
The score was kept low throughout the game, and at the half, the Royals were in control of only a paper-thin 21-20 lead.
It was all Pierson in the third quarter, mostly thanks to junior forward Patrick Sloane. One of the team’s top defensive players, Sloane was able to stifle Port Jefferson at the point, limiting them to just 2 points in the third quarter.
Sloane finished the day with 5 points, 6 rebounds and a game leading 4 steals.
Pierson controlled a 9 point lead in the fourth quarter, but the tenacious Royals fought their way back to a tie in the closing minutes of the game. The Royals took the last shot of regulation, a long 3-point shot which sailed way off mark, never hitting the basket.
Tied at 32 at the end of regulation, the game went into a 4 minute overtime period.
Once again, Pierson displayed championship-caliber defense, limiting the Royals to just 3 points in the extra period. Down by 1, with two seconds on the clock, Port Jefferson had the last shot of the game. This time it was an off balance 3-point shot that never made its way to the basket. Loesch scored all four of Pierson’s points in overtime, just enough to seal the hard fought victory.
After the game the Whalers’ faithful rushed the courts, filling the gym with chants of Pierson pride and hopes for another patch on the Wall of Champions.
The Whalers will next take on the first seed Stony Brook Bears at the Suffolk County Community College campus at Selden on Monday, February 20 at 6:30 p.m. The winner of that game will walk home with the Suffolk County Class C title.