Valentine’s Day Dagger

A 92-89 loss
Jack Reese, taking the ball to the hoop above in a recent game with Westhampton Beach, has been called by Dan White the best point guard he’s ever coached. Craig Macnaughton

Hearts generally are wooed on Valentine’s Day, not pierced with daggers, though in the East Hampton High School boys basketball team’s case it was so on Feb. 14 at Elwood-John Glenn, its outbracket opponent in the county’s Class A tournament.

“I’ve never coached a triple-overtime game before, though I once played in one in college,” East Hampton’s second-year coach, Dan White, said in recounting the torturous endgame of the 92-89 loss later in the week. “We won it with a 70-footer. It was on ESPN’s Top 10.”

“For the first 29 minutes of regulation, I thought we played the best basketball we’ve played all season. We were unselfish, we shot the ball, we rotated well on defense. We were up 60-42 with 10 seconds left in the third. . . . Then, at the end of the fourth,  we had three not so good minutes, and it cost us.”

Long, agonizing story short, Glenn, thanks largely to the inspired play of its sophomore point guard, Josh Fenner, and owing in part to the fact that East Hampton’s defenders were in foul trouble, obliterated an 11-point East Hampton lead in the final five minutes of regulation.

It looked as if Jack Reese, East Hampton’s senior point guard, would be the hero, as, with about a minute left, he captured the rebound of his missed layup in the lane and, after pulling the ball back out, hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put East Hampton up 69-66.

White signaled for a timeout, “to set up our defense so they couldn’t get a 3,” but was ignored. The ball went to Kyle Szokoli on the left wing — “he must have been 10 feet away from the 3-point line, 27 feet out” — and it swished through the net, forcing overtime.

“We had two baskets and they had two baskets in the first overtime. In the second, we were down by 5 points with a minute left. Max Proctor hit a 3, then Jack got a steal with 20 seconds left. 

We called timeout, and then he made a layup with two seconds left — a tough shot from five feet that was contested. It sat on the back of the rim as we all held our breath, and then went in. That tied it at 80-all.”

“Fenner took over in the third. He had all 12 of their points. Everybody was in foul trouble by then. We were down 6 with 1:30 left. Max hit another 3. We fouled, they missed. Jeremy Vizcaino rebounded. He passed to Turner [Foster], who had a good look from 25 feet. It went around the rim twice and rolled out. And that was all she wrote.”

Fenner finished with a game-high 53 points, a school record. Reese led East Hampton with 24, Malachi Miller had 20, Proctor 14, and Foster 11. East Hampton’s big men, Chris Stoecker and Bladimir Rodriguez Garces, each had 8 and Vizcaino 4.

“I was very proud of our kids. It would have been real easy to fold, but they didn’t. . . . In the past if we’d lost a lead like that it would have been over. This time we fought back. The same thing happened to John Glenn the next night at Westhampton. They were up 33-19 at one point and ended up losing by 3. There was not a single game contested by the second through the 10th Class A seeds that was won by more than 4 points. There were six overtimes all told, ours and three others. So, that’s what I expressed to our kids: that we should be proud we were right there. It just went down to a whistle or to a ball that didn’t drop.”

Thus East Hampton finished at 10-10 over all and 8-8 in league play. Reese has been named to the all-county team, “which means he’s one of the top 10 players among 200 or 300,” and Miller was named to the all-league team.

As for Reese, White said, “I think he’ll play mid-Division II or III. He has had schools come watch him. Where he goes will depend on what he wants to study. I think he’ll play someplace. . . . He’s seen a lot in these past three years. As a sophomore he was on that team that went to the A finals, a team that was moving in the right direction. Then, last year, he gutted it out with me, even though I was doing something that was new to him schematically. Then this year he was the catalyst on a successful team that was one step away from being a legitimate playoff contender. He’s basically been on three different teams, a rare experience for a high school kid — the best, the worst, and very close. And through it all he’s been very positive and supportive of his teammates. He’s the best point guard I’ve ever had.”

As for the near future, “We’re moving in the right direction. Malachi is coming back. He had a great game at Glenn. Max Proctor, who had four 3-pointers in that game, a career high for him, will be back, a very smart player who plays in the middle of our zone. Jeremy will be one of our better guards next year. Turner Foster and Blad will be back too, and Joe [McKee] and Howard [Wood] did a great job with the jayvee. They had size and, despite injuries, placed second or third in their league with a 14-6 or 13-7 record. . . .”

“The kids are playing year round now, we had a good, solid run — we’re moving forward,” the coach said with a smile.