The Bridgehampton boys basketball team looked to end its four-year drought of not reaching the New York State Class D Final Four on Sunday night in the Regional Final but came up a bit short, suffering a 66-60 loss to Marathon at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton, effectively ending the season for the Killer Bees.
Marathon (Section IV-Southern Tier), located in the Cortland area, will play its state semifinal game against Harrisville (Section X-St. Lawrence area) this Saturday, March 16, back at Maines Arena at 2:30 p.m.
The Bees and Olympians were evenly matched, evident in the back-and-forth play throughout Sunday night’s contest. After junior Naéjon Ward made a three-pointer early in the first quarter, senior J.P. Harding made consecutive baskets to help give Bridgehampton a 13-10 lead at the end of one quarter. Both teams opened things up a bit in the second, and after a layup by Bridgehampton junior Will Walker, the scored was tied, 29-29, at halftime.
The teams continued to play even throughout the third, but Marathon’s leading scorer, Diego Castellot, scored seven straight points to give the Olympians a 51-45 edge going into the fourth. Ward opened the final frame with a three, and that got the Bees going. Harding made the front-end of two free throws with 3:26 remaining in the game to pull the Bees within one at 58-57, but that was as close as they would get. Castellot scored on a pair of layups that put Marathon up, 63-57, with 53 seconds remaining, and the Bridgies season came to a close.
Harding, in his final game as a Bee, finished with 28 points and 19 rebounds. Both Ward and White each scored 13 points and White added five assists. Castellot paced Marathon with 28 points and Owen Hoyt (14 points) and Andrew Tilotson (10 points) also contributed for the Olympians.
“They were a very well coached, disciplined team that moved the ball very well and got the shots that they wanted to take,” Bridgehampton head coach Ron White said. “We had to do a little bit more to get them out of their comfort zone. We could have attacked the rim a little bit more. When you’re playing against an aggressive defensive team like they were, you need to lean a little more forward and attack the rim, and I think we may have shied away from it a tad bit, but overall, I’m very proud of our kids to make it to this point.”
The time and location of Sunday night’s game—7:45 p.m. in Binghamton—came into question earlier in the week when the game was set, so much so that it led to Bridgehampton officials contacting both Section XI, the governing body of Suffolk County high school athletics, and the Section IV, the host section. Playing a game that late on Sunday night for a team that had to travel the farthest was not ideal, Coach White said, but the possibility of swapping the game time with teams that didn’t have to travel as far was never discussed. The state rotates every year which section gets to host regional games, and it is the host section that determines time and location.
Coach White made it clear that his team prepared for the game, evident in the close decision, and he did not want to use the game’s time and location as an excuse for the loss. But also as a parent of one of the players and the school board president, he said the decision to keep the game at 7:45 p.m. in a city that’s over five hours away was questionable in regard to the student-athlete’s availability the following day for classes, among other factors.
After getting upstate on Saturday, the team had a breakfast together Sunday morning, had a light walkthrough for the upcoming game, had a team lunch, then had some downtime before getting on the court. The team got on the bus directly following the game and pulled into Bridgehampton around 3 a.m. Needless to say, Coach White kept both of his children home from school on Monday.
“It’s not just about kids playing the game, it’s about the school district and the community as a whole being able to be there for the moment,” he said. “I do understand wherever the tournament is, it is that section’s complete authority to set it up however they want. But I don’t believe Section XI has ever done this to anyone, setting it as a major inconvenience.
“I felt it was a little unfair to have been forced to travel 5 hours and 11 minutes to a site where the opponent is traveling 28 minutes, and at a time that was set that made it difficult for any student class to be there or for any parent following the team who works for a living to make it feasible for them to support the team,” he added.
The Bees will now have to say goodbye to four key players who are set to graduate in June in Harding, Jonny Degroot, Jahqur Carr and Nat Depasquale. Coach White had something positive to say about each one and how much they meant to the program and how much they will be missed. They helped lead the team to Suffolk County and Long Island Class D Championships, the latter of which is the first in the storied team's history.
But with his son Elijah, Ward and Walker each returning next season, Coach White expects the team to be back to its successful ways next year.
“No doubt about it, losing those guys, we have a lot of work to do. But I think we’re up for the task,” he said. “I think you’ll see an ever better Elijah, Naéjon and Will, and hopefully everyone continues to work on their craft.”