J.P. Harding’s scoring had come to a screeching halt in the fourth quarter. But when the Bridgehampton boys basketball team was in serious need of some breathing room, the reliable Harding was the one to break through.
Harding jumped the passing lane at the top of the key, ripped the ball away and sprinted down the floor for an uncontested layup to make it a two-possession game with 16 seconds to go as Bridgehampton beat Livingston Manor, 50-48, in a Class D Southeast Regional semifinal thriller at Suffolk CCC-Brentwood on Monday night.
“I saw the pass coming,” said Harding, who scored 14 points and made the critical play shortly after Jonathan Degroot’s putback with 1:21 remaining broke a tie at 45. “I was reading the ballhandler’s eyes and [he] just telegraphed it.”
Elijah White also had 14 points for the Killer Bees.
“J.P. is a very tough guy,” Bridgehampton coach Ronald White said. “He’s a very soft-spoken dude, but he’s a dynamic player. And Elijah’s the young pup that you know is going to be something really special.”
Allan Ward’s three-pointer with 1.7 seconds remaining cut Bridgehampton’s lead to 50-48, and the Wildcats promptly fouled on the inbound. Both free throws were missed, but Livingston Manor was unable to get off a shot before the final eight-tenths of a second zipped off the clock.
Bridgehampton will face the winner of Tuesday’s matchup between Newfield (Newfield, New York) and Martin Luther King Jr. (Hastings on Hudson) in the final Friday at Center Moriches.
After falling into a 17-6 hole late in the first quarter following a 13-2 run by Livingston Manor, Bridgehampton created some momentum late in the quarter on Degroot’s layup and Nae’Jon Ward’s banked three-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer. The Killer Bees proceeded to score three more unanswered buckets to take an 18-17 lead with 6:25 to go in the half.
“We just had some jitters in the early going,” White said. “Goosebumps, nervousness. We hadn’t played in three weeks . . . Being down 17-6 I think woke us up. And the players said ‘not again’ and started fighting and believing in themselves again.”
Bridgehampton ultimately overcame myriad Livingston Manor challenges after entering the fourth quarter tied at 37.
“The zone took some time to figure out and they were great shooters off the dribble and in catch-and-shoot,” White said. “They were a really good test.”
As Bridgehampton prepares for the upcoming Southeast Regional final, White is pleased with what he sees from his program. This is a first season of a new era after the retirement of coach Carl Johnson, whose 27-year run was highlighted by four state titles.
“I love the progress we’ve made this season,” White said. “We were down seven seniors and only had two guys that had played competitive ball before . . . We started out 0-6 in league play. Some of the basketball population was asking if we would win a game. And now we’re here in the Southeast Regional final.”