Making history is never easy, and that was the case for Half Hollow Hills East in Thursday night’s dramatic Suffolk Class AA championship game.
No. 1 seed Bay Shore made it especially hard when Jose Rivera drilled a three-pointer from the right corner to cut Hills East’s lead to one with 25 seconds left. “I was a little nervous,” said Hills East guard Julien Crittendon, who had a huge fourth quarter.
Who could blame him? But Kioni Nedd showed nerves of steel at the foul line, hitting two clutch free throws that provided the winning points.
No. 3 Hills East wound up edging Bay Shore, 64-62, to win the first boys basketball county championship in school history before a spirited crowd of more than 2,300 at Stony Brook University’s Island FCU Arena.
“We’ve been aware of it for quite a while. This was the game of the year for our school,” said Crittendon, who scored nine of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, including a breakaway layup that gave Hills East a 59-49 lead with 2:35 left.
Crittendon shot 8-for-14 from the field, including a pair of three-pointers, and had four steals. “I’m a very confident shooter. I feel that every shot I take will go in,” he said. “It’s awesome to do something that’s never been done at our school. I’m proud we accomplished this.”
His backcourt partner, Savion Lewis, also did the school proud with 19 points, seven assists and three steals. “Savion led us and I’m just glad that I helped out,” Crittendon said.
There was plenty of help all around for the Thunderbirds (20-4), who will face the winner of Saturday’s Nassau Class AA championship game between Uniondale and Westbury on March 12 at 1:30 p.m. at Stony Brook.
Kendall Nero-Clark added 14 points and eight rebounds and Kenny Mathurin was a presence inside with nine points.
Rivera was stellar in defeat, scoring 27 points and shooting 12-for-21 for Bay Shore (20-4). But after Nedd made his free throws and Bay Shore needed a three to tie, Hills East didn’t let Rivera get a touch.
Kyree Sawyer drew a two-shot foul and went to the line with 2.1 seconds left. He made the first one and Bay Shore coach C.J. Leary called a timeout to discuss strategy. He instructed Sawyer to deliberately miss the second free throw, but when the ball hit off the rim, it went right to Hills East’s Zach Schwartz.
There were only six-tenths of a second left and Hills East was able to successfully inbound the ball, touching off a wild midcourt celebration and providing a lasting memory for fans.
Hills East had split the two regular-season meetings of the Suffolk League II rivals. Bay Shore won the regular-season title and earned the top seed for the playoffs. Hills East was second then, but first now.
“It feels amazing,” Crittendon said amid the postgame revelry from the Thunderbirds’ fans. They were hysterical; the players’ achievement was historical.