Xavier Lewis hurt his shooting thumb in the fourth quarter and still played all 36 minutes when Half Hollow Hills East worked overtime to subdue Northport in Saturday’s Suffolk AA final. Backcourt partner Derek Varlack played 36 on two sore ankles. And forward Louis Mathurin aggravated a knee issue.
Suffolk’s large schools champ had two more title games coming — Monday night’s overall county final vs. undefeated small schools winner Kings Park at Longwood and Saturday’s AA Long Island championship matchup against Baldwin at Hofstra, which is also a regional final with a ticket to the state final four on the table.
The three Thunderbirds senior starters ended up sitting out against Kings Park, wanting to try to rest and recover before the bigger championship game.
But Hills East won anyway, 57-50, taking the county’s tournament of champions behind 12 points from Bryce Hamilton, 11 from Adam Kirschenblatt and 34 from seven others who scored.
"If you ask me, we’re the deepest team on Long Island," Kirschenblatt said. "… People stepped up today, and that’s what we expected to happen."
The Kingmen’s undefeated run ended at 24-0.
"Listen, you’ve got to really give credit to the [Hills East] guys that played," said coach Chris Rube, whose team will play in the Class A Long Island championship game/regional final vs. Manhasset Saturday at Hofstra. "… And for the first time all year, I think they wanted it a little more than our guys, which is disappointing."
Thunderbirds coach Peter Basel texted Rube on Sunday to let him know about his situation.
"I specifically asked Derek, Xavier and Louis how they feel about this game after Saturday’s game," Basel said. "And without me saying anything, each one of them said, ‘Coach, I want to rest. The big picture is Baldwin.’ They were all just being really smart about it. … I was not going to force the issue."
A 14-2 third-quarter run gave Hills East a 41-28 lead.
Kirschenblatt scored 10 in the quarter, which ended with the Thunderbirds up 49-37, having outscored the Kingsmen 22-14.
Matty Garside, who scored 19, cut it to 49-41 with a three.
But Hamilton countered by putting in an offensive rebound and Jordan Heyman followed with a three for a 54-41 advantage with 4:47 left.
"This game here … really showed our depth," Basel said. "And our experience came out and showed tonight against a really good Kings Park team."