Bridgehampton hoop fans who attended Friday’s tournament game felt the magic in the air.
Their Killer Bees, like so many times before, would accomplish the improbable, rise up and defeat a bigger more talented rival, and make the storybook ascension to the State Final Four tournament.
But on this night in Center Moriches, playing for the New York State Class D regional final, reality quickly set in—and it wasn’t pretty. There are no Cinderellas in high school basketball.
Newfield advanced all the way to the title game last season before losing in the final minute to Moriah, and the Trojans, winners of 20 of 22 games, are bent on getting back to the Final Four. They didn’t buy into any of the Killer Bees mystique—the visitors had the better team and they knew it.
The Bees didn’t help themselves by coming out ice cold with a shooting malaise that was to linger the entire game.
Despite scoring only two points in the entire first quarter though, the locals were miraculously still in the game, 9-2.
The Bees were blocking shots, playing tough defense, and controlling the defensive boards, and the feeling persisted that if the shots started falling they could make a game of it. The Trojans knew better.
After all, they had spent the entire first quarter virtually ignoring a six-one bulldog named Josh Wood, who stood in the left corner all by himself, as if he had been banished there by a teacher for not doing his homework.
Certainly the Bees must have known it was Wood who torched Martin Luther King Senior High School in the other regional semifinal, bombing for 27 points.
Still, the Bees left him standing there alone. Suddenly the ball started swinging his way. Wood as it turned out, can do two things extremely well: he can bury the open three-pointer, and he can charge into the paint like a fullback smelling the end zone.
The Bees finally woke up in the second stanza. J.P. Harding scored to make it 9-4, and Elijah White drilled two free throws to make it 10-6.
Then Wood took over. He scored on a put back. He stole the ball and drove the lane for a layup, and he answered a White put back with another bucket to make it 23-12. His layup off a nifty pass from Greg Moravec made it 25-12 at halftime.
The Bees had one more run in them. Nae-Jon Ward opened the second half scoring with two long bombs from the top of the key, and for a moment—just a moment—it seemed as if the fabled nine-time state champions were back in it. White, with a chance to cut the deficit to nine, missed, and Wood, fouled, converted both charity tosses.
Harding answered, scoring in heavy traffic deep in the paint.
But Wood dropped home a bomb, and Jacob Humbe followed a Bees’ turnover with another trey. Opera singers could be heard in the distance. This thing was over.
Wood pounded the final nail, a three-point play to put the Trojans up by 22. The final was 61-44, but it really wasn’t that close.
Harding (18), Ward (14), and White (12) led the Bees, though the team had a dismal shooting night. Wood, only a sophomore, tallied 22, all but one in the second and third quarters when it really mattered. Newfield also got its wish—the defending champions, Moriah (24-0) will be their opponent tomorrow.
The Bees knocked Moriah from the ranks of the unbeaten to capture the State Class D title in 2015. Newfield is 21-2.
The Bees labored much of the season under first year coach Ronnie White, wining only eight games in the regular season—six of those came against League VIII doormats Ross School, Shelter Island, and Smithtown Christian.
But with Ward returning to the nest after a brief sojourn to Southampton the Killer Bees return all five starters next season, and might well get another shot at Newfield come March.