NEWBURGH, N.Y. — One play cannot define a season. It cannot define a career.
In the final seconds of his senior season, Bridgehampton’s Elijah Jackson trailed freshman Nae-Jon Ward up court. The freshman had received an outlet pass from JP Harding, who had rebounded a missed foul shot by S.S. Seward’s Andrew Sanchez with 6.4 seconds remaining and the Bees trailing by a point.
Ward knew he had to make a play. He had done so all night, with five points and six assists. Moments earlier, his two clutch free throws cut S.S. Seward’s lead to one.
As he dribbled past halfcourt, Ward felt Jackson behind him. He picked up his dribble, pivoted and passed the ball to Jackson. Only Jackson continued on his path to the left wing.
The ball bounced into no-man’s land. By the time Bridgehampton recovered, it was too late. The buzzer sounded, and S.S. Seward advanced into the Southeast Regional final with a 61-60 win Monday at Mount Saint Mary College.
“Nae-Jon, he played a great game the whole night. Everybody did,” said Jackson, who led the Bees with 19 points and 11 rebounds. “It just hurts to see us go out that way. I can’t fault that on anybody. That’s not his fault. That’s not my fault. It’s a team effort.”
The teams crossed paths on the way to their respective locker rooms, and S.S. Seward’s players and coaches recognized Ward’s performance. Several stopped to console him, telling him to keep his head up because he played great and has a bright future.
“You live and die with the freshmen,” said Carl Johnson, who recently announced this would be his 27th and final season as Bridgehampton’s coach. “Sometimes they do great things. Sometimes they don’t. He’s going to be a great little ballplayer. He played great for me this year and this game. Hopefully it’s a learning lesson for him to stay hungry and get better.”
The Bees (14-8) began the game on a 10-1 run, highlighted by three-pointers from Ward and Nykell Dean (17 points). They led for most of the first half and entered halftime tied at 34.
Jason Guerra scored eight of his 26 points in the third quarter, and S.S. Seward took a 54-46 lead into the fourth. But Jackson scored six straight points, and Elijah Harding converted a transition layup off a pretty feed from Ward for a 58-56 lead with 1:14 left.
“I thought we might take it,” Dean said.
But Guerra tied the game on a fastbreak layup with 1:48 left. He missed two free throws with 1:14 remaining, but S.S. Seward chased down the rebound. That set up Matt Stam’s go-ahead three-pointer with 56 seconds left. It was his first shot of the night.
“Hey,” Johnson said, “that’s just the way the ball bounces sometimes.”