By Benito Vila
There was a time, early on, when it looked as though the Bridgehampton boys’ basketball team was destined for a season of growing pains. After starting 1-7 overall and sporting a 1-2 league mark on January 9, the Killer Bees broke out with two three-game win-streaks and a 7-3 run in league play to propel the storied program back into the county Class D playoffs.
Last night, and too late for this edition, the Bridgehampton boys traveled to 11-2 Stony Brook looking to improve their 8-5 league mark and further demonstrate they belong at the top of the league along with 14-0 Greenport, Stony Brook and 9-5 Mercy.
Bridgehampton’s next game comes at noon next Friday, February 20, in Longwood, going up against Greenport for the county Class D championship. That’s a championship the Bees have earned 17 times since 1978 on their way to bringing home nine state titles.
Former Bridgehampton standout and now long-time coach Carl Johnson credits “the maturity that the team showed over the last few weeks, starting back in January”, when he was away attending to the death of his mother, as being key to the season. “They kept working in my absence and started to put it all together.”
Monday’s 59-42 win over Ross typified the type of effort, resiliency and intensity Coach Johnson has come to expect from his crew. Away from their home court and down 20-5 after the first period, the Bees came back to close the halftime deficit to five at 26-21. A breakout third quarter saw Bridgehampton outrun Ross 25-7 to put the game away.
Coach Johnson said the difference early on was “emotion. Ross had it. It was their senior night and they came out high and played really good ball, the best we’ve seen from any team all year, including Greenport.” Switching up the defense from a 1-3-1 zone to a 2-3 full court trap pressured and rushed the Ross ball-handlers and opened up opportunities for Killer Bees’ attack.
Â “Once our defense stepped up, we were able to get some turnovers and fast-breaks, that led to some nice transition baskets, some open shots and then we started hitting the open man and getting the shots we wanted. That and controlling the boards allowed us to keep them to 22 after the first.”
Junior guard Ainsley Wyche led the Bees with 32 points and 12 assists Monday. Wyche’s classmates Cesar Banados and Jamal Hires helped put the game out of reach, Banados with three three-pointers and 13 points overall and Hires with a pair of put-back baskets and 13 rebounds.
In the playoff clinching 76-56 win over Shelter Island last Thursday, Wyche (31) and Banados (25) combined for 56 of Bridgehampton’s total, with sophomore Nate Hochstedler adding in six.
A Look Ahead
The youth of the team is something that Coach Johnson sees as a real strength. “We have almost everyone coming back. If they keep working hard and everyone continues to improve the way they have, we can make a serious run at states next year.”
Returning along with the three juniors and Hochstedler are first off-the-bench reserves Canaan Campbell, a freshman, and Evan Marzan, a 6’4” junior. Sophomores Jeremy Carston and Oscar Reyes and freshmen Brendan Hemby and Pablo Saldivar will be asked to fill in where seniors Matt Marzan, Pablo Londono and Luke Hochstedler have made their contributions.
Looking ahead to playing Greenport, Coach Johnson was quick to admit, “There’s no pressure on us. We’ll have a game plan and it’s a matter of executing it.”
Still coping with the loss of his mother, Coach Johnson acknowledged her passing has had an influence on how he’s approached this season. “It’s changed how I look at the game. Everybody wants to win but that’s not all there is. If your kids perform hard and they do their best, you have to be satisfied with that; that the game is a small part of life and that there are other things to conquer is what I’ve tried to convey to my team.”