Xavier Lewis displayed a hot hand in the first quarter Monday at Copiague, scoring 17 of his career-high 34 points. Derek Varlack stepped forward in the second quarter, scoring 11 of his career-high 24. And then it was Adam Kirschenblatt’s turn to stand out in the third quarter, scoring 12 of his 14.
Those are three of Half Hollow Hills East’s 12 seniors. They are among 10 returning lettermen from the team’s Suffolk Conference II title run. The Thunderbirds again have the look of a prime championship contender. That goes for League III and Class AA.
They showed it on offense and defense in an 89-73 win over the Eagles.
"We definitely want a Long Island championship," said Lewis, a 5-8 shooting guard. "But right now we’re taking it one step at a time to get the league championship. We go to counties and then we go to Long Island."
They’re 5-0 in the league and 5-3 overall. The three losses came against Chaminade, Long Island Lutheran and Holy Trinity. Thunderbirds coach Peter Basel thinks the high-level competition "has really stepped up everyone’s game."
"We’re really deep," Basel said. "We have a handful of three-year players that know the system really well."
Copiague (2-3, 1-3) — which received 23 points from Rashad Kee, 20 from Paul Hinkson and 16 from Malachi Moore — grabbed a 17-11 lead. But Hills East took off in the final three minutes of the opening quarter and carried a 22-21 edge into the second.
Lewis hit two of his four threes and scored 10 points in that stretch.
The margin expanded to 47-35 by halftime. Varlack, who had seven assists, six rebounds and five of the Thunderbirds’ 19 steals, converted two turnovers into layups in the last two minutes.
Varlack canned a jumper and then two free throws following a turnover in a 7-0 burst to open the third. It was a 19-point lead.
"I think our inexperience in certain spots came through," Eagles coach Steve Rebholz said. "You make a mistake against them, they were pretty quick to capitalize on it."
Moore, a junior guard in his fifth varsity season, provided a Copiague highlight with his 1,000th point on a layup in the second quarter, part of a three-point play. A brief ceremony followed that and included the presentation of a commemorative ball.
"I have an incredible coach that allowed me to get those points and incredible teammates that I’ve played with throughout the years for me to accomplish that goal," Moore said. "I put a lot of work in to accomplish it."