Harding, Help Defense Carry Bridgehampton To Regional Final

Desirée Keegan

It’s said practice makes perfect.

And the Bridgehampton boys basketball team was able to get a warm-up in for the state regional finals with a 59-29 win over Section’s IX Roscoe Central at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh March 3.

Most of the Bees’ sets ran through J.P. Harding, who muscled his way to the rim for a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds. The senior had the ball early and often, working behind screens set for him downhill. But he grew hungrier after halftime and scored six during a 9-0 Bridgehampton run and finished with 16 second-half points.

Harding forced a steal and scored to extend his team’s advantage to 31-11 to start the third period. After a Nae’Jon Ward (15 points, eight assists, four rebounds) three-pointer, Harding added a layup and a bucket off a feed from Elijah White (eight points, seven rebounds, five assists) through traffic.

“I felt great out there, just let the game come to me,” Harding said before noting his team’s scrappiness on the other side of the court. “We came out really aggressive on defense. It won us the game.”

Baskets from Will Walker and Jahqur Carr countered Roscoe scores before Ward’s spin move through traffic brought the crowd to its feet, as Bridgehampton extended its lead to 44-17.

“I’ve practiced that one a lot, and it was finally time for me to use it in a game,” Ward said with smirk. “I think this boosted our confidence.”

But head coach Ron White wants his team to remain grounded, pointing to some careless errors that led to easy points for the Blue Devils.

“We let some really not-so-good possessions go, and they scored,” White said with a sigh. “Maybe we were able to get away with it now, but next game we’ll be in trouble.”

The Killer Bees (15-9) advance to face the winner of Tuesday’s matchup between Section I Martin Luther King Jr. (Hastings on Hudson) and Section IV Marathon (Cortland County). This victory comes after Bridgehampton secured its first Long Island Class D title with a 63-61 win over Academy Charter on March 1.

“This is the farthest I’ve ever gotten,” Ward said, smiling. “I’ve never even been to Binghamton before.”

Harding, who has continued a longstanding streak of double-doubles with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the LIC title game, said his Bees are locked in.

“Even though we were ahead we were humble, using this as a practice for the more important games that are going to come,” he said. “We’re confident … really confident, but we want to remain humble.”

A Martin Luther King Jr. victory would bring Bridgehampton to Pace University on Friday, while a Marathon win would mean a trip to Floyd L. Maines Arena in Binghamton on Sunday.

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