Two years ago, with his Bridgehampton boys basketball team trailing S.S. Seward by a single point in the Regional Final at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, Nae’Jon Ward was thrust into a tough spot as a freshman. In what ended up being his final game as head coach, Carl Johnson asked Ward to step up and either take a last-second shot or draw a foul to go to the free throw line.
Ward brought the ball up to mid-court, but, feeling some pressure, fumbled the ball as he tried to pass it off to teammate Elijah Jackson, and time ran out. It was a tough moment for Ward, but he had a chance for redemption this past weekend.
With the Killer Bees tied, 85-85, with Class C Champion Greenport in the Suffolk County C/D Qualifier at William Floyd High School on Saturday afternoon, Ward ran the full length of the court and sunk a floater from the left wing of the free throw line with 1.3 seconds remaining to give Bridgehampton an 87-85 victory, one of the most improbable of the season. The Bees had lost twice this season to the Porters, the first by 21 points, the second by 30. But, led by Ward’s 31 points, the Bees had the Porters’ number on Saturday and ended their 19-game winning streak.
Bridgehampton advanced in the county tournament and played Class B Champion Center Moriches on Tuesday in the B/C/D Qualifier (see separate story).
Ward, who scored 12 points in the fourth quarter alone on Saturday, said that the play from two years ago did cross his mind following his big shot.
“I finally grew the confidence and I was able to push myself to work harder so I can be able put that shot up,” he said. “I had to put trust and belief in my coaches when they tell me not to give the ball up and shoot the shot. At that moment I knew I could do it for the team. I really had a lot of confidence at that moment.”
The Bees led the Porters by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter, when junior Elijah White nailed a three-pointer to make it 68-54. But Greenport, behind junior Ahkee Anderson’s 16 fourth-quarter points, stormed back. Greenport senior Jaxan Swann knocked down a three-point shot to tie the score at 85-85 with 17.4 seconds left, forcing Ward into that clutch moment. After Ward scored the go-ahead basket, Greenport quickly called a timeout and drew up a play. Swann inbounded the ball to Anderson, who tossed a last-second shot from midcourt but it was wide right.
White finished with 29 points for Bridgehampton while senior J.P. Harding scored 16 points and had 13 rebounds. Anderson, coming off a 50-point effort in the county championship win over Southold, scored 40 in the loss, while Swann finished with 16.
Bridgehampton head coach Ron White called it his team’s biggest victory of the season and gave credit to Ward for coming through in the big moment.
“Nae’Jon is that guy for us. He is an awesome player and hard to contend with one-on-one,” he said. “He’s been through so much in his personal life, and he’s been resilient through all of that and he’s persevered. It’s taken him some time to be able to do that on the court but he’s believing a little bit more each day and he came through in that moment for us.”
Elijah White had mentioned after the team’s county championship victory over Shelter Island that not too many people expected the Bees to get this far in the postseason. Ward echoed his teammate’s opinion on Monday at practice, but said the win over Greenport now makes his team a legitimate contender.
“I feel like it built confidence not only just in me but the rest of my teammates,” Ward said of his team’s win. “I see a lot of my teammates on the court do a lot of great things and I think they can do it on the bigger stage.”