By Benito Vila
Roller coasters are an easier ride than Bridgehampton–Pierson basketball games. The schools only face off twice each year and only in boys’ basketball; then it’s friend against friend on the floor and neighbor on neighbor in the stands.
Always, amidst all the cheering, jawing and ribbing, the outcome of the games seem to mean so much. And so it has been this season, both squads relying on underclassmen to play key roles and both struggling against more seasoned teams elsewhere in the league.
Pierson took the first meeting 62-59 in overtime in Bridgehampton on December 16; a game the Bees believed they let get away, even though the Whalers went up eight early on. Tuesday’s rematch at Pierson found both schools seven games into their 14-game seasons, both at 4-3, acutely aware 7-7 marks or better are required for post-season play.
A Thrill Ride
The action on the court didn’t disappoint on Tuesday, the scoring coming in short runs, back and forth, each team keeping the other close. In the end, the Whalers were up 48-43 with 1:25 left in the fourth, before the Bees battled back, making the most of a technical foul and an extra possession to close the gap.
A banked shot by the Bees’ Cesar Banados tied the score at 49 with 5.3 seconds left in regulation. Time running out, the Whalers were unable to get a clean shot before the buzzer, forcing overtime.
And overtime saw Bridgehampton break out with a quick 5-0 run, Ainsley Wyche taking a stolen pass to outside the arc and knocking down a three-pointer and Jamal Hires finding himself free underneath the basket for a lay-up following a long rebound off a Pierson miss. A bucket by Casey Crowley drew the Whalers to within three with 2:36 remaining, but Banados beat back the charge with a three-point bomb.
Unfazed, Crowley caromed in a three-pointer to pull Pierson within three again, at 57-54 with 2:02 left. Then, as can often happen, an unlikely hero came through, Bees’ back-up forward Pablo Londono putting his team back up five by getting open inside and laying-in a short shot with 1:40 remaining.
While the Whalers’ Luke Kirrane closed the margin to three with 55 seconds left and Dylan Hmielenski to one with 29 seconds left, there was to be no comeback for the home team. With the shot clock off and Pierson forced to foul to regain possession, Wyche hit two free throws to make the score 61-58 Bridgehampton with 16.4 seconds left.
Two missed three-point tries by Pierson had both teams scrambling after the ball, with players on both benches standing, pointing and screaming. When travel was called on the Bees with 5.5 seconds left, it gave the Whalers one last shot.
But, again, no one on the home team was able to work himself free. The ball went up without any chance of it going through the net and the buzzer sounded to give the visitors the win.
Much can be said of a game that saw Pierson finish off the first half on a 10-0 run, up 29-22, and Bridgehampton start the second 7-0 to even up the score. Then, somewhat unconventionally, there were successive runs of 6-2, 5-0, 9-0, 4-0, 4-1, back and forth for each team, with Pierson up 48-43 before Bridgehampton went 6-1 to tie.
While Wyche led all scorers with 29 points, 10 coming from the line and 9 behind the arc, it may have been his defenders who had the greatest impact on the game. The physical effort put in by Whalers Ryan Miller and Tyler Gilbride in trying to rein in quick and wiry Wyche led them to foul out of the game, both in the fourth quarter.
Their absence left the Whalers without their quickest and most consistent perimeter defenders and without a pair of ball-handlers who had accounted for a quarter of the Whaler points (Gilbride seven, Miller six) when they went to sit; that slowed the Pierson offense and left Wyche free to drive the lane and dish to Banados, Londono and Hires when the Whaler forwards were forced to cut him off.
His two keepers locked up, Wyche hit two clutch three-pointers, one coming out of the technical foul possession with 40 seconds left in regulation, to bring the Bees within one at 48-47, and the other to start overtime. Wyche stayed strong at the free throw line, despite all the contact, going 10 for 14 there; as a team the Bees were 16 of 22 (72%) at the line while the Whalers were 15 of 25 (60%), the misses making a difference.
Pierson’s Fred Marienfeld said afterwards, “We didn’t finish what we started. The technical and our foul shooting gave them extra chances in the last minute. We can’t let that happen. If someone tells me before the game that we’re scoring 58 points, I’m thinking we’re winning, but nothing’s a given.” To make the playoffs the Whalers must now win three out of their last six, knowing that the top of the division Mercy, Stony Brook and Greenport are tough and that Shelter Island, Ross and Smithtown Christian are no picnic.
Bridgehampton’s Carl Johnson was much subdued afterwards, still recovering from the passing of his mother, and having allowed assistant and former Killer Bee standout Ronnie White to be the more vocal leader from the bench. “We’ve come together in the way I knew we could when we started the season. Ainsley’s come along; he’s seeing the floor well, controlling the pace and finding a way to get everyone involved. And everyone’s contributing in all ways, on both ends, and that’s why we’ve been winning. We need two more and who knows what might happen.”
Other Game Totals
Also scoring points for Bridgehampton were Hires with 11, Banados and Londono with eight, Caanan Campbell, three, Nathan Hochstedler and Evan Marzan, two each. Hires and Londono pulled down 10 rebounds each, while Wyche notched nine assists.
Pierson was lead by Crowley’s 18 points and Kirrane’s 11. Jake Weingartner and Skyler Loesch both scored seven and Hmielenski added two, both from the line. Kirrane was credited with seven rebounds and Miller eight, Crowley recording four assists.
The Whaler win last Friday at Smithtown Christian was no easy feat, the host Crusaders keeping the game close and refusing to surrender. Pierson pulled ahead 10-8 in the first, and held a 25-21 advantage at the half, Joey Dowling scoring eight early on to lead the Whalers.
The Crusaders worked their way back in the game, the score 36-all after the third. The outcome was unclear until Gilbride threw in a three-pointer with 1:30 left to put Pierson up 52-49 and Smithtown Christian missed a potential tying three-pointer with 15 seconds left. Dowling led the Whalers with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Â The Whalers, now 4-4 in League VIII, make their way to Shelter Island tomorrow, the JV tipping off at 4 p.m., the varsity at 5:45 p.m. With mid-terms next week, there’s a break in the Pierson schedule until Mercy comes in next Friday, the JVs meeting at 4:30 p.m., the varsities at 6:15 p.m.
Bridgehampton, now 5-3, has a rough road games ahead, playing away at Mercy tomorrow at 7 p.m. and traveling to Greenport next Friday.
Ross, a playoff long-shot at 2-6, is also due to travel this week, taking on Smithtown Christian there Friday at 4:30 p.m., scrimmaging in Southold Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. and ferrying over to Shelter Island next Friday.