Nick Grathwohl just couldn’t resist.
The Southold senior shooting guard had orders from First Settlers coach Lucas Grigonis that with time left for only one possession the smart play was to drive to the basket. The thing is that Grathwohl’s biggest strength is the three-point shot. So when he crossed over on the dribble and found himself with enough distance from his defender to get one off, he did.
Grathwohl’s aim was true and that three-pointer with 7.3 seconds was the final act of Southold’s 62-60 upset of top-seeded Pierson in the the Suffolk Class C championship game Friday night at East Hampton High School. The Whalers led by 12 with about three minutes left to play before the Settlers closed the game with a 17-3 run for the victory.
Henry Brooks, who had 24 points, missed an off-balance shot at the final buzzer that would have tied it.
“I got two or three feet of space from the kid and I shot,” said Grathwohl, who had nine of his 30 points in the final run. “Crunch time is my prime time. That’s what I love at the end of the game. I have to be there for my team.”
“Nick doesn’t lack confidence and tonight it worked in our favor,” said Grigonis, who added that he wasn’t thrilled at the shot selection but “sometimes you have to ride with the emotion and Nick rode his emotion.”
Southold (13-8), the second seed, earned its fourth overall county title and first since 2006 when it also won the Long Island championship. It will play for it again on March 10 against Nassau’s East Rockaway at Centereach High School in the state Class C southeast regional. The Settlers also earned a spot in the Suffolk’s overall championship tournament and will face Class D champion Smithtown Christian next Wednesday.
Pierson (14-7) won both of the teams’ regular-season meetings handily but, hamstrung by early foul trouble Friday night, trailed 28-24 at halftime. Whalers sophomore forward Wilson Bennett erupted for 14 of his 21 points in the third quarter and Pierson appeared to have gained control, up 50-39.
The turning point came when Bennett fouled out with 3:25 left and Nick Egbert fouled out with 3:10 to go. Pierson scored on the ensuing possession for a 57-45 lead, but it was all Southold after that. The Settlers went to a fouling strategy and the Whalers ended up missing nine fourth-quarter shots on the stripe overall and went 3-for-9 down the stretch.
When Brooks made one of two on the line with 37.5 seconds left for a 58-55 lead, Grathwohl drew a foul and made both to make it a one-point game. When Brooks made one of two with 24.1 seconds left, Grathwohl leaned in for a short bank shot to tie the score at 59 with 15 ticks left.
Southold junior Nick DeNicola fouled Brooks on the inbounds play and again, the Whalers senior made one of two. It set the table for Grathwohl’s game-winner.
“They were a good free-throw shooting team throughout the season so we were surprised,” Grigonis said of Pierson. “We needed a lot of things to align for us tonight to get this win and the basketball gods [delivered]. There was also help from one very good player.”