You could see it in the way that Jon Borkowski kept his cool bringing the ball up against a withering press. It was there every time Brian Green made the extra pass. And it was front-and-center each time AJ Petraitis or Andrew Plate rose up for a rebound and refused to come down without it.
Kings Park had reached the Suffolk Class A boys basketball championship game three straight years only to see their season end in tears. The Kingsmen’s four seniors starters were not about to let it happen again.
Kings Park turned what has been a remarkable season into something much more special on Tuesday night as it staggered Deer Park with a monster third quarter and then held together for a scintillating 60-52 victory before a full house at Longwood High School.
"This feeling is on another level — an emotional thing," Petraitis said. "Right before the game I told the team that I’ve been there the last couple times and guys who I looked up to in the program ended up in tears at the end of their season because of this game. It was a motivator. We wanted to do this for us, but also all of them."
"It hurt to see seniors walk away from this in tears," Plate said. "We weren’t going to let it happen again."
The Kingsmen (23-0) are county champions for the third time and first since 2007. They will meet the Nassau Class A titlist on March 12 at Hofstra in the Long Island Class A championship game/NYSPHSAA Southeast Regional. Kings Park next takes the floor on Friday at Sachem East for the Suffolk small schools crown against Class B titlist Southampton (20-2) in the county’s annual tournament of champions.
Matt Garside was a spark for the big third quarter with eight of his 21 points for Kings Park. Petraitis had 16 points and nine rebounds, Plate had 15 points and nine rebounds and Green had six assists. Preston Edmead scored 22 and Nate Gordon 12 for Deer Park (17-5).
Kingsmen coach Chris Rube liked the way his starting five was playing together and stuck with that quintet for the entire 32 minutes, even when some wandered into foul trouble. They made for quite the ensemble. When junior Matt Garside, the team’s top scorer, was limited to nine first-half points, Plate and Borkowski picked up the slack with six apiece and Petraitis added four.
"The strength of this team all year has been that they work as hard as they can and don’t care who scores," Rube said. "Everything we do is about how the five guys on the floor are connected."
The Falcons led by four on an Edmead putback with 6:14 left in the third quarter before Kings Park erupted for 16 unanswered points by scoring on seven of eight possessions over about a five-minute span. Garside had a pair of three-pointers and two assists and Petraitis had six points in the run.
Deer Park cut the margin to 51-48 on a Gordon putback with 3:42 left to play, but Plate scored the next four points to get Kings Park some breathing room.
"We’re versatile players," Garside said of the starting five. "Each one of us can do a little bit of everything and that’s what was happening [in the run]."
"We were just channel energy in [the run]," Petraitis said. "Everyone in the game, everyone on the bench, everyone in the stands was making that happen. It was awesome."