Half Hollow Hills East's Brandon Varlack scores in the third quarter...

Half Hollow Hills East's Brandon Varlack scores in the third quarter during a Suffolk Class AA boys basketball semifinal against Deer Park on Tuesday at Longwood. Credit: Bob Sorensen

The Half Hollow Hills East boys basketball team can rattle off a breathtaking scoring run or lock down its opponent for minutes at a time.

When both are happening at the same time, Hills East is at its best and perhaps no one is better.

“It’s great to have versatility in the team overall,” Hills East’s Brandon Varlack said.

No. 2 Hills East held No. 6 Deer Park to four points in the first quarter and just one point in the first six minutes of the third quarter. They snapped a halftime tie and took control for a 61-44 win in the Suffolk Class AA semifinals Tuesday at Longwood High School.

“It’s an unreal feeling right now, a feeling I’m going to celebrate just for tonight,” Hills East coach Mike Marcelin said. “ …We wanted to be here, but we want a county championship. That’s our focus, I’m laser-focused, and I’m going to appreciate this because it doesn’t come around every year.”

Varlack scored 18 points, Skyler Ellis added 11 and Ryan Zeh had 10 points for Hills East (18-4).

Hills East next faces No. 1 Smithtown West in the county championship at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Longwood.

“Hills East is one of the best teams in the county,” Deer Park coach John McCaffrey said. “They’ve been one of the best teams in the county the whole year.”

Tuesday marked the third meeting between the teams. Hills East won by 11 at home on Jan. 6 and by 12 at Deer Park on Feb. 5.

Hills East was in command early, ending the first quarter on an 11-0 run to take a 14-4 lead into the second.

Deer Park (14-9) was held scoreless for 7:38 between the first and second quarter, but freshman Ethan Nelson (21 points) caught fire. Nelson scored 14 second-quarter points, including four threes, as the Falcons were able to even the score at 21 by halftime.

“It’s hard to stop a player like [Nelson],” Marcelin said. “But we really zoned in at halftime and tried to take him out of the game and make other players make plays, and it worked out for us.”

Hills East’s third-quarter response resembled its first quarter. It opened the half on a 16-1 run, holding Deer Park scoreless for a 3:59 stretch in the third quarter.

Hills East extended its lead to 24 with 5:48 left. One more game stands between Hills East and its first county title since the 2022 Suffolk Class AA championship.

What will it take to keep the success rolling?

“Defense,” Varlack said. “Definitely defense.”

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months