By Andrew Rudansky
This past week, the Pierson Whalers made a deep run in the Suffolk County Section XI playoffs, making it to the fourth round, before getting knocked out of the post-season by the Center Moriches Red Devils.
The Whalers, Suffolk County Class C/D champions, were battling the Red Devils, Class B champs, for the Suffolk County B/C/D title on Friday, February 24 at Farmingdale State College for a chance to play in the Small Schools Championship game. The Red Devils, coming from a much larger Class B school, whipped the Whalers, 68-36, in the matchup.
All Section XI schools are divided into various classes based on total school enrollment. D being the smallest schools like Bridgehampton and Ross, while AA being reserved for the largest schools in the county such as Commack and Lindenhurst.
History has shown that, with a larger student enrollment, AA and A schools are more likely to win the Section XI championship than a school like Pierson. That didn’t mean the Whalers didn’t put their all in the playoff run.
To get even this far in the playoffs, the Whalers had to get through a gauntlet of top League VII and VIII teams.
In the first round of the playoffs they triumphed over the Port Jefferson Royals at home. In the second round they beat the first seed Stony Brook Bears for the Class C title.
The title was Pierson’s first Suffolk County Class C title in 33 years. The school does have a Class D championship from 1994.
In the third round the Whalers defeated their cross-turnpike rivals, the Bridgehampton Killer Bees, for the C/D title.
The playoff win over the Bees gives Pierson a 5-0 record against their traditional rival over the past two years.
In Friday’s matchup with Center Moriches, the Whalers kept things competitive in the first half of the game, leading by 2 with two minutes left to go in the half. In the closing minutes of the second quarter the Red Devils got hot and went on an 8-2 run.
In the third quarter, the Red Devils were able to capitalize on the Whalers’ turnovers, further distancing themselves from the C/D champions. Seeing his players outplayed, outmatched and in foul trouble, Pierson Head Coach Dan White pulled most of his starters, allowing his bench to get valuable experience in a championship atmosphere.
By the end of the game, the Red Devils walked away with the B/C/D title after winning in decisive fashion.
“I was encouraged by the game,” said White after the loss, “because Center Moriches is a very good team and we played right with them for a full half.”
White said that the real advantage the Red Devils had in the game was their ability to field a more athletic team than Pierson. Not a single player on the Whalers’ roster was able to score in double digits. Jake Bennet led the team with 9 points.
The Whalers were only two wins shy of reaching the Section XI championship game.
Despite the loss in the Section XI playoffs, the year still isn’t over for the Whalers basketball team.
As Section XI Class C champs the Pierson Whalers will take on the Section VIII Nassau County Class C champions, the East Rockaway Rocks, on Tuesday March 6 at 5 p.m. at Farmingdale.
With a win over the Rocks, the Whalers would make it into the top-8 Class C teams in the state. They would then travel to SUNY New Paltz for the New York State Regionals on March 10 to take on the winner of the Class C Section I/Section IX game.
A win in the regionals would punch the Whalers ticket for the Final Four Class C NYSPHSAA State Championships at Glen Falls Citv Center on March 16.
“I really have faith in my team,” said White about the Whalers’ playoff chances, “I have no reason not to be confident.”
The Whalers caught a tough break going into the Class C state playoffs, when sophomore point guard Ian Barrett tweaked his ankle during a practice this past Monday.
The sophomore has run the point in the starting lineup all season long.
“It’s too early to tell,” said White about Barrett’s availability in the playoffs. “He might be alright, we will see what happens.”
If he is forced to miss any playing time that could be a major blow for the Whalers. White said that if he has to replace Barrett in the starting lineup, he will plug in either Jackson Marienfeld or Jake Bennett.