There's a ragged stripe of orange coloring in Fernando Vazquez's jet-black hair. "I thought it would be cool," Vazquez said of proudly displaying the brightest color of his new school, Babylon, when he arrived as a transfer from Half Hollow Hills West last fall.
Today, there is nothing cooler in the high school and village of Babylon than orange (and black) as Vazquez earned his stripes by scoring 30 points and leading the Panthers to a rousing 82-57 victory Wednesday night over Southampton in the Suffolk Class B final at Patchogue-Medford that produced Babylon's first Suffolk County boys basketball title since 1986.
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"It's working!" Vazquez joked about the hair coloring antic that has proved to be a good-luck charm for Babylon (18-2), which placed four starters in double figures in routing the Mariners (15-5) and advancing to the state regional Class B semifinal against the Nassau champion on March 5 as well as the BCD playoff game against Bridgehampton on Saturday at noon at Longwood in a Suffolk overall tournament semifinal game.
"We are an unselfish team," said Vazquez, who scored 14 points in the third quarter, which the Panthers dominated 27-14 to take a 65-36 lead and turn the fourth quarter essentially into garbage time. Brendan Laing scored 17, Jake Carlock 16 and Raymond Wardell 14 for Babylon.
"No one cares who gets the points," said Carlock, a Newsday All-Long Island football player for the reigning Long Island Class IV champions. But everyone cared about the long drought between county boys basketball titles.
"Coach has been stressing it since Day 1," Carlock said. "He told us to look at the banner on the wall and he told us to hang up another one."
That became a reality Wednesday night as Babylon played a flawless game, repeatedly making the extra pass and playing a stifling defensive mix of man and zone. "That's the personality of this team," coach Chris Morra said. "They don't care who scores the ball; they just pass to the open man."
Morra called the championship "an unbelievable feeling for the kids, their families, the students and the community." Babylon had a large and vocal presence at Patchogue-Medford High School, including a particularly loud section of students clad in T-shirts that matched Vazquez's hair stripe.
"The kids in the orange shirts came on a fan bus organized by principal Al Cirone," Morra said. "The whole school got behind us."
It's the cool thing to do.