By Benito Vila & Jacob Sisson
It’d be easy to describe any basketball game in the Bridgehampton gym as a back and forth affair; the court, known as “the Hive”, is smaller that the one in the Sag Harbor Elementary school.
Oftentimes the close confines are all the Killer Bees need to sting a visiting opponent.
That was not the case Tuesday, the Pierson Whalers holding back their hosts and taking home a 63-50 victory.
The outcome puts the Whalers in the win column for the first time this season, following a loss to Port Jefferson on Thursday, January 13 and three earlier league losses to Greenport, Stony Brook, Port Jefferson and Southold.
The Killer Bees, meanwhile, at 1-5 in League VIII play, have a tough course ahead of them, Southold coming in Friday and Greenport next.
Their playoff hopes rest on their Class D designation, which only takes into account Bridgehampton’s record against Ross, Shelter Island and Greenport.
Pierson has Shelter Island in tomorrow at 6:15 p.m. and Ross in Tuesday. The Whalers need wins in those games, and against the top teams in the coming weeks, to earn any post-season consideration.
The difference in Tuesday’s match-up proved to be a 20-3 run by the Whalers at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth. Tight team play by Pierson was highlighted by a four-point play by senior guard Tyler Gilbride, who was fouled hitting a three-pointer and put in his free throw.
Seamus Doyle led the Whalers with 19 points. Sam Miller and Jake Weingarter each added 10, with Gilbride knocking in 9. Canaan Campbell led the Killer Bees with 22.
Earlier in the week the Whalers’ faced off against the Port Jefferson Royals (3-3, 2-1) and came away losing 69-45. While the Whalers had been starting to put the pieces together, the trip to Port Jefferson was the third in a set of three straight games against Suffolk County League Eight’s elite. Having already dropped games against League VIII leading Greenport and joint second placed Stony Brook, Port Jefferson stood as a key test of Pierson’s possible playoff credentials.
The feeling in the Whalers camp ahead of the three key matchups was to survive the tests and play as good basketball as possible. A good game against the Royals would set Pierson up well for a run of games against the league’s mid-table teams and give the Whalers some momentum needed for wins. While the scoreline may not have showed it, Pierson got some excellent contributions from their bench players who will be important as the season progresses.
The Whalers didn’t get out to the start they were hoping for in the first quarter, as it took more than two minutes for senior forward Seamus Doyle to record the team’s first points. Doyle hit a well-placed three-pointer off of an assist from fellow senior forward Jake Weingartner.
The three-pointer could not stem the Port Jefferson tide, however, as the Royals poured 16 points onto the Whalers before James Sloane answered with the first of his seven points on the night. Only Dylan Hmielenski could muster another lay in before the first quarter ended with Port Jefferson up 24-7.
The second quarter was worse for the Whalers offensively, as they could only grab five points, three coming from Weingartner while Tyler Gilbride recorded his only basket of the night. Still, Pierson ratcheted up the defense and held Port Jefferson to 11 points, entering halftime down 35-12.
Foul trouble for many of the team’s better rebounders, including Weingartner, Doyle and Skyler Loesch hindered the Whalers’ ability to dominate the glass, and allowed Port Jefferson too many second chance points. As a result, Pierson had to turn to some of its unsung bench players for scoring production.
In the third quarter, this task fell to Sloane, guard Jackson Marienfeld and the continued help from Weingartner. Pierson managed 13 points from the quarter and, with only eight minutes left, the Whalers were looking at a 54-25 deficit.
Despite victory being out of reach, Pierson forward Michael Heller stepped in and had a fine quarter, trying to reignite his team. Just over a minute into the period, Heller hit his first jumper off of a Skyler Loesch assist to open up a floodgate of sorts. In just eight minutes of play, Heller scored eight points – two shots from the field and four made free throws – and had two rebounds, to power the Whalers to a 20-point quarter.
Despite the scoring surge, Pierson could not bring back the Royals, who went on to win 69-45. Despite the loss, Pierson’s bench players picked up some key confidence as they move on to face Bridgehampton on Tuesday and bottom of the league Shelter Island on Friday. With lessons learned from the league’s three toughest teams in hand, the Whalers are still in a position to make a run at the playoffs.