Down 10 points mid third quarter and their season on the line, things looked very bleak for Pierson.
They were getting outhustled in transition and outmuscled on the boards.
That is when seniors Wilson Bennett and Cecil Munshin put Pierson on their backs and rallied them from a double-digit third quarter deficit to pull out a 55-51 win over Carle Place in the Long Island Class C championship/state Southeast Regional semifinal on Wednesday night at Centereach.
Bennett led all scorers with 25 points and Munshin netted 16 points. Rocco Zannino led Carle Place with 22 points and Christopher Colaciello added 12 points.
Pierson (22-2) moves on to face Alexander Hamilton (18-5) in the Regional final at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Yorktown. Carle Place finishes 8-13.
The game was competitive in the first half with Carle Place leading 28-22 heading into the break. Pierson was shooting themselves in the foot hitting only 6 of 16 free throws before the intermission. "At halftime we felt it was pretty uncharacteristic of us as a team," Munshin said.
"We weren’t hitting our free throws and we weren’t boxing out to get rebounds. We knew we were a longer more physical team … if we played our game we knew we would have a good chance of winning down the stretch."
The closest Pierson brought the game to was 30-26 before Carle Place extended the lead to 38-28 with half the third quarter to play. From there Pierson began a 17-7 run to finally tie the score off a three-pointer by Munshin. He then hit another big three-pointer to make it 48-45 with 4:30 left in the game.
"He’s a dog, he’s the first one in the gym the last one out," coach Will Fujita said of Munshin. "I knew that if we had him in the game, between him and Wilson, the two of them can open things up quickly."
And that they did, when Bennett made a layup to go up 50-45. Colaciello then hit a three to bring Carle Place within three and then Zannino hit another clutch three-pointer with 1:10 to go to bring them within 52-51. Bennett then hit the biggest shot of the game with a midrange pull-up to extend the lead to 54-51.
Pierson then held on to secure the victory.
"I got the ball with six seconds left on the shot clock and knew I had to do something," Bennett said. When asked how he felt when the ball left his hands Bennett said "it felt good, it felt good."
" I put my trust in him, I give him the keys to the car," Fujita said. "He saw an opening and he took it."