Half Hollow Hills East's Derek Varlack dribbles during a Suffolk...

Half Hollow Hills East's Derek Varlack dribbles during a Suffolk boys basketball playoff game between Half Hollow Hills East and Brentwood on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022 in Manorville. Credit: Pablo Garcia Corradi

The inspiration was flowing for Half Hollow Hills East, and the Thunderbirds never needed it more than when the fourth quarter began in their Suffolk Class AA boys basketball semifinal. They were looking up from 13 points down against top-seeded Brentwood.

The game resumed Sunday morning at Eastport-South Manor after being suspended at halftime Saturday. The father of Hills East senior point guard Derek Varlack had suffered a medical emergency in the stands during the intermission and left via an ambulance.

When the final quarter started, Varlack stepped up, erupting for 13 of his 14 points. Xavier Lewis added nine of his game-high 25. The team’s zone press ruled, too.

The No. 4 Thunderbirds blew past Brentwood, emerging with a 71-63 win.

"It was so important for me," Varlack said. "Seeing him like that yesterday, it just gave us motivation. I started out bad, but I knew I was going to get it to fall eventually. He wanted me to win for him. So we did this for him.

"He loves watching me play . . . He’s doing better. Hopefully, we can get him out there for the county final."

Lewis said there was "a sigh of relief" when the players heard Joe Varlack was doing OK.

"Everybody wanted to do this for Derek’s dad," Lewis said. "This game is dedicated to Mr. Varlack."

So Hills East (17-6) will chase its first county title since 2018 when it faces No. 2 Northport at 2 p.m. Saturday at Smithtown East.

"Coming off this inspiring victory, we have a lot of confidence in our system," Lewis said.

Brentwood had won 16 straight and arrived at 18-2. Its average margin of victory was nearly 30 points. But it got outscored 31-10 in the fourth quarter.

"I told these guys, ‘We’re supposed to be here. We’re just as good as any of these other teams,’ " Thunderbirds coach Peter Basel said. "So you throw the seeds out the window. Anybody can beat anybody."

Hills East opened the final quarter with a 10-0 burst, trimming its deficit to 53-50.

The Thunderbirds took a 57-56 edge on a Varlack layup. They grabbed the lead for good at 59-58 on two Varlack free throws. Lewis followed with two more after a turnover.

"Our 1-2-2 press really helped us and took us to the next level in this game," Lewis said.

Varlack drove the lane for a five-point lead, which soon became 10.

"Him being in a real good place, Mr. Varlack, and Derek being in a good place . . . it made it a lot more comfortable with everybody coming out here because this is uncharted waters," Basel said. "We’ve never been in a situation like this."

Brentwood, which was paced by Aaron Nyantakyi’s 19 points, led 29-28 at the resumption and outscored Hills East 24-12 in the third quarter. Then the game turned.

"We made some poor decisions with the basketball," coach Anthony Jimenez said. "They pressed us and got us out of sorts."

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