Bobby Vacca, who ought to know, said after the East Hampton High School boys basketball team’s extraordinary fourth-quarter resurgence here against Shoreham-Wading River on Jan. 10 that “the greatest comeback in high school basketball in Suffolk County that I’ve ever seen” had led to the remarkable 57-56 win.
This writer, who has seen numberless boys basketball games in Suffolk over the past 30 years, wasn’t about to argue.
For those who stayed, and most did, it was a game they’ll not soon forget. To begin with, it seemed as if East Hampton had no answer for Shoreham’s tough inside man, John Kovach, who repeatedly tossed in 2-pointers from close range, and who was virtually impeccable from the foul line.
The Bonackers were down by 9 points when the fourth quarter began, and, with about five and a half minutes remaining, trailed by 15 — Kovach having outscored East Hampton 8-2 in the final period’s opening minutes.
It was then that Bill McKee, East Hampton’s coach, called for a timeout, and, in the huddle, for full-court pressure.
When play resumed, Thomas King, who was to be the game’s hero, was fouled as he went to the hoop and subsequently made both free throws. East Hampton’s press took over from there, forcing turnover after turnover as the Bonackers, fired up by their fans, became increasingly confident. Increasingly discomfited, the doubled-up visitors stepped on lines, were stripped of the ball, and tried desperately to pass over the top of Bonac’s swarming D as Kovach waited, lonely and unfed, at the baseline.
During that frenzied finale, East Hampton outscored Shoreham 19-3 — the Wildcats’ only basket, a long 3, accounted for by Kevin Turano. East Hampton, meanwhile, went 9-for-11 from the foul line, with King going 6-for-8 and Juan Cuevas going 3-for-3 after having been fouled beyond the arc. Thomas Nelson made two huge baskets during the run, his first after intercepting an over-the-top pass at midcourt and converting the layup and the second after slipping free and gathering in a bounce pass from King on his way to the hoop.
Nelson’s second score brought the home team to within 56-51. Moments later, King answered a Shoreham miss with a layup of his own for 56-53, and Donja Davis, who had come off the bench, stole the ball, prompting McKee to call an East Hampton timeout with 1:51 on the clock.
East Hampton inbounded when play resumed, but Davis was called for a backcourt foul, which turned the ball over to the visitors as McKee shook his head. Shoreham did not take advantage, however; Cuevas came up with a steal — East Hampton’s 10th of the quarter — and hit a runner in the lane for 56-55. With the gym in an uproar and half a minute left, Shoreham came close to losing the ball again before its coach called for a timeout.
The Wildcats did a pretty good job of playing keepaway as the final seconds ticked away. With 6.4 seconds left, after McKee had during his last timeout told his players what to do should a Shoreham player go to the line, Nelson fouled Kovach.
The gym shook as Shoreham’s big man — who was to wind up with a game-high 33 points — prepared to let the ball go.
It was off the mark, and King, who rebounded, took off, mindful that if it were a 1-point game he should go to the hoop. “I took seven dribbles,” the point guard and co-captain said later, “and took off into traffic. Everybody had a hand on the ball. . . .”
But despite the hacking, the coast-to-coast layup banked into the net just as the buzzer sounded. East Hampton hadwon! The team and its fans were beside themselves. A foul had been called on the play, but, perhaps because a foul shot would have been moot, none was awarded.
“I guess the refs wanted to go home,” an elated McKee said afterward.
King, a junior who co-captains the team with Patrick McGuirk (recovering at the moment from an appendectomy) and Cameron Yusko, said that in those last five and a half minutes the team had shifted gears, and that it had been the best game he’d played.
“The kids were great,” said McKee.