By Benito Vila
It was standing room only in the Bridgehampton School gym Tuesday evening, the Killer Bees varsity basketball team hosting the Pierson boys in the League VIII opener for each squad. Tuesday’s contest was a close battle between two young and up-and-coming teams; the Whalers coming away with a 62-59 overtime win.
In years past the hoops-only rivalry has seen the Bees sting the Whalers often, especially in “the Hive” as their remarkably undersized gym is known locally. There was a buzz in the building Tuesday well before tip-off, long-time friends greeting each other and then sitting on different sides.
The game proved to be a thrilling roller coaster ride for both sets of fans, the Whalers going up eight at 18-10 to start to start the second quarter and the Bees building an eight-point cushion mid-way through the third at 37-29. Pierson rallied to within one to close the third and pulled ahead 47-44 with 3:12 to go in the fourth.
Whaler forwards Joe Dowling and Nick DePetris powered that 18-7 run, the pair scoring 14 of Pierson’s points in the go-ahead push. But Bridgehampton bounced back, Ainsley Wyche shooting in a three-pointer and Nate Hochstedler lifting the Bees up 49-47 on a steal and breakaway bucket with 2:30 remaining.
A Wild Finish
That frenetic pace, the product of having high school players on an elementary school-sized floor, continued the rest of the way, the emotion swinging from one-side of the room to the other on every point. In the final minute neither team could put the game away, Pierson holding a 54-52 lead with 57 seconds left but the possession arrow pointing towards the Bridgehampton bench.
In that last minute, both teams showed their youth in turnover-prone decision-making that prompted the ball to go the other way. The ball stayed on the Bees’ end for three shots, the Whalers unable to clear the rebounds back up-court.
When traveling was called against Bridgehampton with seven seconds left, some of the Whaler faithful started up to leave, seemingly satisfied to game was finished. But that was not the case, the visitors sitting back down when Wyche and Hochstedler closed in to deny an in-bound pass and Hochstedler hit a jumper to tie the score at 54-54 with two seconds on the clock.
With :00 on the clock and the score even, overtime seemed a forgone conclusion to the crowd but the two coaches and the referees gathered at the scorers table for what was obviously a meaningful discussion. Unheard by most was a whistle blown before the buzzer in the final second signaling a foul on Bridgehampton during Pierson’s final in-bound pass.
That call earned the fouled player, Dowling, two free throws. The crowd was hushed, the nine other players on the court gathered at behind mid-court, as Dowling toed the line, the pressure on the Pierson captain to make a shot and end the game.
Having shot 8 of 10 from the line at that point, it seemed Dowling was the right player in the right situation for Pierson. As fate would have it, both shots bounced away, negating a Bridgehampton protest and forcing overtime.
The extra period saw both sides struggle to control the ball, the Bees scoring first two minutes into the five-minute frame. Those points came when Wyche made the most of a steal and Cesar Banados sank a free throw. Fouls under the Pierson basket sent Whalers Nick DePetris and Luke Kirrane to the line, with each netting one to keep the score close.
With just 2:22 remaining, an in-bound play to Dowling put Pierson up 58-57 and a breakaway bucket by the captain with 1:33 remaining made up for the missed free throws and gave the Whalers a 60-57 lead. Pierson pushed their run to eight points when point guard Dylan Hmielenski scored on a floater in the lane with 49 seconds left, making the score 62-57 visitors.
Adding to the drama of the finish was Bridgehampton battling for the ball and controlling possession for most of the game’s final 39 seconds. But the Bees managed to tally just two points, those coming from Evan Marzan at the free throw line, making the final 62-59 Pierson.
When asked the difference in the game, Bridgehampton coach Carl Johnson simply said, “Joey Dowling. Every time they [Pierson] needed a basket to stay in the game, he came through. When they needed a rebound he got it.” In all Dowling totaled 24 points, 18 in the second half and four in OT, and pulled down 17 rebounds.
Reflecting on Dowling’s effort and leadership, Pierson varsity coach Fred Marienfeld said, “I need that kid on the floor. He played every minute and had no fouls. He hustles; he scrambles; he gets after loose balls. There’s nothing he won’t do.”
Both coaches cited the intensity of play as positive, each hoping it carries over into this week’s contests, the Bees hosting Mercy tomorrow at 5 p.m. and the Whalers heading upstate for a weekend tournament. The coaches also noted their teams need more work on rebounding, free throws and offensive execution.
In identifying key contributors, Coach Johnson pointed to the play of junior guard Wyche, who led the Bees with 25 points and is “quickly learning to be a leader, a coach on the court.” He also liked the hustle of Hochstedler, who created several turnovers and scoring opportunities, adding, “This might have been a breakout game for him; a big confidence booster.” Mainly, he applauded the team as whole, saying, “They came out a little nervous, kept playing when they were down and gave me all they could give me. They never gave up.”
Meanwhile, Coach Marienfeld praised the play of forward Luke Kirrane (eight points) and the effort of his sophomores, particularly Hmielenski and Tyler Gilbride who “did a good job up top both ways” after starting guard, senior Casey Crowley (seven points) fouled out late in the third period. When senior sixth man Nick DePetris (13 points, six rebounds) fouled out in overtime, Coach Marienfeld had sophomore Skyler Loesch step in to fill a big spot at forward.
After the game Tuesday, Dowling described his focus going into Tuesday’s game saying, “I really wanted that one. We had to get it, especially since we started 0-3 [in non-league], all games we should have won [two of the losses coming in overtime].”
In describing that moment alone at the line, Dowling humbly expressed a dislike for those sorts of pressure situations and was surprised to learn that he was 8 of 10 before those two avoided the net. He said the best part of the game “was how everybody came together at the end, the young guys stepping up when we needed them.”
Whalers Home Tuesday
The weekend has the Pierson boys in playing in Syracuse and Rochester as part of the annual Charles J. Finney School tournament, an event the team won last year. They are back for school on Monday and open their home schedule Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. against 1-0 Shelter Island in the Pierson gym.
Â “That’s this team’s only league home game for 2008,” noted Coach Marienfeld. “It’d be great if these guys could get themselves an early Christmas present upstate and then show everyone their best Tuesday. After six games away, I’m sure everyone will be glad to be home.”