March Madness is just winding down as I write this, and I am not talking college basketball so much as local high school basketball.
All eyes here in the Hamptons, of course, have been on the Bridgehampton School, whose team has won nine state championships, in the 40 years that state championship games have been offered.
The last one they won was in 2015. When they win one, practically the entire town assembles on the front lawn of the school at two in the morning, to cheer the school bus bearing the players home from Glens Falls or whatever other upstate arena where the finals are played. The fuss made over these wins is largely because the school is quite small and the players often compete with schools that have three times the enrollment and thus are able to bring to the court a team with a considerable height advantage. But Bridgehampton wins anyway.
This year’s Bridgehampton Killer Bees did not go undefeated on the East End. Indeed, they wound up with 17 wins and 8 losses. In particular, they could not beat Greenport in two separate tries during the season. The second of these was a 110 to 80 loss. It is rare that a team scores more than 100 points in high school basketball. But then, Greenport had won 19 games in a row.
The thing was that for the Killer Bees, when they got to the Suffolk County Class CD game after the regular season, their opponent was, once again, for the third time, Greenport. If they lost that game, they’d be done. But if they won, they would be able to go on to the County Championships, then go on to fight to win the Regional Championships and finally the State Championships. But they had to play Greenport.
The game was played at William Floyd High School. Greenport was a taller team from a school with a larger class enrollment. It should be tough. It should be said that the Killer Bees are known, as their name would suggest, as a team that plays in a relentless swarm. It worked for the bees. And it worked for the Killer Bees.
It turned out to be a thrilling game. The team traded scores until a three-pointer by Elijah White put Bridgehampton in front 26–24. After that, Bridgehampton slowly increased its lead. In the fourth quarter, however, with Bridgehampton in front 68–54, Greenport came roaring back.
With with just 17.4 seconds left to play, Greenport’s Jaxan Swann hit a three-pointer to tie the score at 85–85, and the crowd was on its feet. It would be a terrific ending. In just those last few seconds, Killer Bee Nae’jon Ward raced down the court and threw a running one-hander for the score. Now there were just 1.3 seconds to go. Greenport threw the ball inbounds, a wild Hail Mary shot was thrown but missed, and it was over. Where it counted, the Killer Bees won and moved on.
Many people in town talked about this remarkable win, predicting that it was not likely to continue for long, so there were fingers crossed. But then the Killer Bees upset Academy Charter 63–61 on the first day of March, and were the Class D Champions of Long Island. And off they went to the Regional Championships upstate in Binghamton.
Their opponent in the Regional Semi-Finals was Roscoe Central, a small high school about their size from the Catskills, north of Liberty and Monticello. It was a mismatch. The Killer Bees breezed by Roscoe Central 59–29.
Next came Marathon, a team from a high school located in Cortland County, about 40 miles south of Syracuse. The winner of this scrap would win the State Semifinal and move on to the Finals. Were the Killer Bees up to it?
Killer Bees coach Ron White never looks at things other than the game itself, but here the time the game was scheduled jumped right out at him. The game would take place at 7:45 p.m. Sunday in Binghamton, which would mean a long five-and-a-half-hour bus ride home and then little sleep before classes the next day. Marathon only had an hour drive. He kept all this to himself, but representatives from the school did phone the organizers of the tournament asking that the time be changed. It was not. It was what it was.
The two teams played pretty much evenly through three quarters, with Marathon making a little spurt into the lead with a seven-point charge by Diego Castellot. It was 51–45. The clock clicked slowly down in the fourth, and the Killer Bees’ Nae’jon Ward and J.P. Harding got the team to within one point at 58–57, but the Bees were simply unable to budge into the lead. Final score: Marathon 63, Bridgehampton 57. And it was over.
I should report that the Greenport Porters did make it into the Semifinals for the State Championship Class C, a class for bigger schools, but wound up losing.
And now we wait until next year.