Justin Fackler, Mike Simon help Hills East win League II title
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They didn't need a timeout. They didn't need their coach to call a play. Justin Fackler and Mike Simon had their own plan.
"Me and Mike had a play in mind," Fackler said of his Half Hollow Hills East teammate. "We saw what was happening. We decided it right on the court. It was in the moment."
And what a moment it was.
Host Central Islip had brought the large crowd to its feet with a stirring comeback, tying the score on Malcolm Pridgeon's putback with 40 seconds left. That's when guard Simon and forward Fackler put their plan in motion.
The duo devised a pick-and-roll, with Fackler setting a pick on Simon's defender. As soon as Pridgeon stepped toward Simon, Fackler rolled toward the basket, Simon delivered a slick pass and Fackler converted the layup with 23 seconds left. That provided the winning points in a dramatic 46-44 victory Friday night that gave the Thunderbirds their first Suffolk League II title since 2006.
"As soon as Pridgeon moved up, I dipped low and went to the basket," Fackler said.
The play worked perfectly because Simon is a three-point threat (he sank three from beyond the arc in the first quarter) and Pridgeon is an aggressive shot-blocker (the 6-7 center had seven rejections to go with his 19 points and 14 rebounds).
Hills East (13-1) had to survive a frantic final seconds as the Musketeers (11-3) had a chance to tie or win. But pressure defense forced a turnover and the Thunderbirds' night turned fabulous.
"When that happened," Fackler said of Central Islip's rally from a nine-point third-quarter deficit, "it was frustrating. We were in foul trouble , but we kept our composure at the end."
Fackler scored all eight of his points in the second half and grabbed 10 rebounds. Simon scored 11 points, all in the first half. Jordan McRae had 10 points and, more importantly, matched Pridgeon -- a Division I football prospect who will attend Nassau CC -- with seven blocked shots. The two big men went at it down low all night, turning back each other's shots several times.
"He's a great competitor," said McRae, who gave away one inch and many pounds to his counterpart. "I'm used to battling down low. I loved going against him."
After an 18-0 burst that featured six consecutive three-pointers and produced a 20-7 lead after one quarter, McRae attributed the Thunderbirds' offensive woes to their own mistakes. "We started turning the ball over and we got out of our pace,'' he said. "We had to slow it down."
But at the end, quick thinking brought a league championship.
"It feels awesome to put another year on the banner," Fackler said. "We didn't want to share that title."
They just wanted to share the ball.