By Corey McLaughlin
Westbury waited a while for this county title. "A decade," Sheldon Hagigal said correctly. And the Green Dragons needed to hold off the celebration a little longer -- until the very end of yesterday's 45-42 win over Elmont in the Nassau Class A boys basketball final.
But when they were able to let loose, it was sweet. A few Westbury players packed their gold-plated county title plaques into the backpack of Mikel Hooks. Then they took them back out as they all posed on the Hofstra floor for a championship team picture, one that hadn't been taken of a Westbury group since 2000.
"It feels real good," said Hagigal, who scored a team-high 13 points and helped No. 2 Westbury hold off a late rally by top-seeded Elmont. "We've had so many ups and downs with injures, personal problems, grades, but we stayed strong and we were able to win the Nassau county championship."
That wasn't decided until the final minute. Westbury led by 10 with about three minutes to go, but the Spartans, who had beaten the Dragons twice during the regular season, rallied. Trailing by three, Elmont had a chance to tie it with less than 30 seconds left, but came up empty.
Westbury (17-4) advances to play Suffolk champ Harborfields in the Class A Long Island Championship at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hofstra.
"We knew they were going to come at us tough," Westbury's Lamard Herron (eight points, seven rebounds) said of Elmont (18-3), which had defeated the Dragons 48-46 on Jan. 22 and 74-71 in overtime on Jan. 5.
The result was different yesterday, helped by the presence of the 6-2 junior Hagigal, the team's leading scorer who wasn't a factor in each of the previous Elmont games. He played about four minutes in the first meeting while recovering from a fractured leg and he didn't play at all in the second game because of personal issues.
Westbury had another key player back yesterday, too: point guard Tyrece Redd, who hadn't played in six games because of academic problems. Redd didn't start, but had nine points.
"This is the first time we were really at full strength," Westbury coach Dave Graff said. "And we were able to execute down the stretch. We made enough plays to pull this one out."
After Herron hit two foul shots to put Westbury up 44-34 with 2:24 left, Elmont, led by Dean Walker's 10 points, came back to within 45-42 with 40 seconds on a baseline scoop lay-in by Dominique Williams.
Westbury missed a shot on its next possession, giving the ball back to the Spartans with 22.4 seconds left. Coming out of a timeout, Elmont wanted to try a three-pointer by Walker. He was well-defended, Elmont coach George Holub said, which eventually led to a forced two-point attempt in the paint with three seconds remaining.
"They made a push but we stayed focused," Hagigal said. "It was a game we could win if we stayed together."