Sean Braithwaite was a ball boy the last time Center Moriches won the Suffolk Class B championship. “I dreamed about this all the time. I’m thinking, ‘When am I going to play?’ ” the versatile 6-5 sophomore said.
The answer came Tuesday night when Braithwaite once again had his hands on the ball. He and senior Nakia Durham scored 21 points each to lead Center Moriches to its first title since 2012 with a 71-59 victory over Babylon before a full house at Suffolk CCC-Brentwood.
Braithwaite clearly learned a lot being around the Red Devils at such a young age. The 16-year-old rebounded, defended, shot from inside and out and served as the team’s point guard whenever Babylon applied pressure. “He’s a position-less basketball player,” Center Moriches coach Nick Thomas said.
He helped the Red Devils (18-3) move into position to extend their season. They next play on Friday against Bridgehampton in the B-CD game at 5 p.m. at Suffolk CCC-Selden and also will face the Nassau Class B champion for the Long Island title on March 7 at SUNY-Old Westbury.
“I’m happy for my seniors,” Braithwaite said. “But it was a little nerve-wracking when they got hot.”
Babylon, which finished 13-7, made 10 three-pointers, allowing them to cut a 19-point third-quarter deficit to 48-40 with 1:39 left in the period. Shaun Kaminski scored 16 points, including a trio of treys in the third, while Aidan LaRock added 15 points (with three from downtown) and Joe Rende added 12, including a pair of threes.
Braithwaite stopped Babylon’s run with a huge three of his own, on a nice pass from David Falco and then Troy Goode (12 points) helped Center Moriches regain control by scoring seven straight points for a 58-43 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers made some noise on back-to-back threes by Kaminski and Rende to cut the deficit to 64-55 with 2:50 left, but got no closer.
“We are always a second-half team,” Thomas said. “But give Babylon credit for putting up a fight. But I always tell my kids, you have to take a punch to give a punch.”
Durham joined Braithwaite in delivering most of the telling blows. “Nakia is a senior and he played with a sense of urgency,” Thomas said. “He empties his tank in every game.”
The Red Devils expended much of their fuel on defense, applying turnover-inducing traps that produced several scoring bursts, including an 11-0 run to start the third quarter that forced Babylon into catch-up mode the rest of the night.
“We’re built on defense. That’s where it starts,” Thomas said.
Where will it end? That chapter is yet to be written, but the former ball boy surely will be part of the plot line.