Add another chapter to what is fast becoming a rather thick history book being written by the Half Hollow Hills East boys basketball team for the 2016-17 season.
The list of firsts keeps growing. The Thunderbirds reached the Suffolk Class AA final for the first time in school history, but that really was just a footnote. A bold-face entry came Thursday when Hills East outlasted Bay Shore in a thriller to win the program’s first county title.
Not quite as bold but still pretty sweet was Sunday night’s 87-71 victory over Class A Southampton at Suffolk County CC-Selden for the Suffolk overall championship, a non-elimination game that presents certain tactical challenges regarding player use.
“There were a couple of ways I could’ve played this, but I decided to go for it,” Hills East coach Peter Basel said. “There was something at stake here. It’s our first overall county championship, another title to hang our hats on.”
So Basel used all of his starters until the game was out of reach, and they responded well. Julien Crittendon scored 24 points, 16 in the second half as the T-Birds shifted into overdrive with a pair of 24-point quarters. Kendall Nero-Clark scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and point guard Savion Lewis had 19 points and a fistful of steals. Kenny Mathurin added 13 points.
“We got our transition game going and our press created some steals and easy baskets,” Basel said. He acknowledged that the Hills East defense lost some focus after a 17-4 start, allowing Southampton to cut the halftime deficit to 39-29. So he ordered his team to start pressing.
The T-Birds were pedal to the metal on every forced turnover, and that allowed Crittendon to spring free on the wing to sink four three-pointers in the third quarter that broke the game open. “We were a little lax on defense and started reaching,” Basel said. “So I tried to get them out of that with the press. Then Julien was on fire in the third quarter and we needed that, because Southampton is a really good team. They can shoot the ball.”
In a free-flowing affair that at times resembled an All-Star Game, Southampton sank 12 from beyond the arc and Hills East had nine. Andre Franklin made three from downtown and scored 19 points; Chad Pike had four treys and netted 16.
Hills East (21-4) will face Westbury for the Long Island Class AA title at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Stony Brook. Southampton (20-3) played without starting point guard Elijah Wingfield, who was in a boot with an ankle injury, but hopes to have him back for the Long Island Class A championship game against Elmont at 11 a.m. Sunday at Stony Brook.
For both teams, there are chapters to write.