“We just couldn’t get over the hump,” Carl Johnson, who coaches Bridgehampton High’s boys basketball team, the Killer Bees, said Tuesday on his and his players’ return from Newburgh, where S.S. Seward of Orange County had sent them home the night before on the short end of a 61-60 score.
Thus Seward advances to the southeastern regional final this weekend, while the Bees, who had very much wanted to present their retiring coach with a fifth state Class D championship, will have to wait until next year.
“Ah, man,” Johnson said during a telephone conversation Tuesday morning when the subject of the previous night’s painful setback came up. “We started out hot. . . . We were down by 8 going into the fourth and came back. We were up 2 near the end with a chance to go up by 5. We got two good looks — great looks — but couldn’t knock it down. So, it wasn’t as if we didn’t have our opportunities. Even at the end, we had a chance to win it. . . .”
That would have been after J.P. Harding, who returned to the lineup that day after having been sidelined for the better part of three weeks with a broken wrist, came up with the rebound of a missed foul shot and, with 6.4 seconds left, hit Nae-Jon Ward, the Bees’ agile freshman point guard, with an outlet pass.
Rather than charge toward the hoop, though, Ward passed, the ball eluding the grasp of Elijah Jackson — the Bees’ high-scorer that night, with 19 points — who, according to Newsday’s account, had, after trailing on the play, cut for the left wing. Jackson got a shot off, but the final buzzer had already sounded.
Ward, it should be noted, brought the Bees to within 1 when he made two clutch free throws with 19 seconds left.
“So, on to the next chapter,” said Johnson, who was aware, of course, that his players very much wanted to crown his retirement from a quarter-century of coaching with a fifth state championship. (It would have been the school’s 10th.)
“I was proud of our kids,” he said. “I liked the way they battled.”
Seward’s sophomore guard, John Guerra, had a game-high 26 points. A 3-pointer by Matt Stam — his only basket of the game — with 56 seconds left proved to be the game-winner.
Jackson, as aforesaid, finished with 19 points, and Nykell Dean, the former sixth man who played very well in the playoffs, largely in J.P. Harding’s absence, with 17. Elijah Harding, a tough inside player, had 10, J.P. Harding, who before the injury was leading the team in scoring with a 21-points-per-game average, with 7, and Ward, with 5. Jackson also had 11 rebounds, and Ward had 6 assists. Elijah White rounded out the scoring with 2 points.
It was, the coach agreed, a long bus ride home.
“But tomorrow — today — is a new day,” this writer volunteered.
“Yes, we’ll have three starters coming back — J.P., who will be a senior, and Nae-Jon and Elijah White, who will be sophomores. That’s three to build on.”
And Johnson, though he’ll retire from coaching, will remain at the school, where he said he will help the younger students hone their games.