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Half Hollow Hills East claims Suffolk Conference II boys basketball championship for its third county title

Half Hollow Hills East's Leisaan Hibbert (3) and

Half Hollow Hills East's Leisaan Hibbert (3) and Bryce Hamilton celebrate the win after the Suffolk High School Conference II Basketball final on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, at Half Hollow Hills East High School. Credit: Bob Sorensen

Half Hollow Hills East made it a "Perfect 10" on Sunday.

The Thunderbirds completed a most odd season that was truncated by the COVID-19 pandemic by capturing the Suffolk Conference II boys basketball championship with a 60-48 victory over scrappy Smithtown West at Hills East. They went 10-0 for the season.

This is the third county basketball championship for Hills East and first since 2018. It also ends the season as there is no Nassau County champion to face for a Long Island title and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association canceled the state championship tournament because of the pandemic.

"It may not look like other county championships, but we won every challenge that was put in front of us and it certainly is special," said Peter Basel, the Thunderbirds' 19th-year coach. "We said we should take it as it is. We can hang another banner in the gym. We can send our seniors off right . . . Really, this couldn’t be sweeter."

Smithtown West (7-2) led for only one possession of the game at 12-11 when Tyler Anderson completed a three-point play with 27.7 seconds left in the first quarter. Hills East answered on the other end with Kyle Behrens driving for a layup just ticks before the buzzer.

Behrens and Derek Varlack combined to score the first eight points of a second quarter during which the Thunderbirds capitalized on six Bulls turnovers and outscored them 17-6.

That Behrens, Varlack and Adam Kirschenblatt — not typically the headline grabbers — played a major role in the title-game win shows that Hills East was not only speedy and talented but deep.

"We have a lot of people who can contribute and you have to be ready and have confidence in yourself," Behrens said.

Varlack had 16 points and Xavier Lewis added 12 for Hills East. Louis Mathurin had 10 points and 11 rebounds and Leisaan Hibbert had eight rebounds and four assists. Patrick Burke scored 22 points and Anderson 15 for the Bulls.

Varlack had nine of his points as Hills East increased its lead to 42-21 midway through the third quarter. That’s when Smithtown West went into its trapping defense and assembled a 16-6 run capped by Burke’s layup with 5:32 left to make it 48-42.

"That’s when we showed our poise and stayed calm," Varlack said.

This could be the start of something for Hills East because it is loaded with juniors who will be back hoping for a normal season with a similar ending.

"We can definitely get back," Mathurin said.

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