Elijah White let out a huge sigh of relief.
“A lot of people doubted us, didn’t think we’d make it this far,” the Bridgehampton junior said. “We had a couple of bad losses in the beginning and end of the season, and to reassure us, to get us to have faith in ourselves, this win was big.”
White scored 18 points and had six steals and six rebounds in the Killer Bees’ 61-49 win over Shelter Island February 13 for the Suffolk County Class D title at Center Moriches High School. But he wasn’t the only one serving up some trouble. The rest of Bridgehampton’s big three was having double the fun. Senior J.P. Harding’s 19 points and 13 rebounds led the Bees, and junior Nae’Jon Ward added 11 points and 10 assists.
Harding got his team off on the right foot when he battled for a layup to knot the score at 5-all while being fouled. He completed the three-point play to give his team a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. To show just how much he and his teammates shared the ball, Harding finished the first quarter with seven points, White and Ward each had a 3-pointer, and by the end of the first half all three had seven points. But Shelter Island trailed by just seven, 28-21, at the break and kept the game close early in the third. White hit his second three with 3:19 left in the fourth quarter to push the Bees’ lead back to double digits, 49-37, and Shelter Island got within 10 points the rest of the night.
“We wanted to pressure them on defense,” Harding said. “I think the first half we could have stepped it up a little bit more, but in the second half everybody was denying the ball, working hard playing man-to-man.”
Shelter Island beat Bridgehampton by three points back on January 10, a loss that stuck with the Killer Bees, along with a big loss to Greenport and a much closer one, by one point at the buzzer, to Pierson February 1.
“We worked for this all season, and especially to get it against Shelter Island feels really good,” Harding said.
Bridgehampton studied Shelter Island to ensure it would have success like it did the second time around against the Indians February 4, when the Bees won 78-61.
“They’re great shooters. We knew all of them were great going right, so we wanted to force them to go left,” White said. “We know the offense is going to come, but defense is the problem we’ve had, so we kept in the back of our minds to make it a priority.”
For Harding, it is the fourth time he’s played in the postseason, but first time he’s competed in a county championship game, with Bridgehampton collecting the title without having to face an opponent the last three seasons. White said he enjoyed representing his town, and providing it with not just a title but a game to show how hard the Bees have worked to get there. Their coach felt the same.
“It’s all about earning things,” said Ron White, Elijah’s father. “Nothing is given in real life. You’ve got to go out and earn it, and I really appreciate the fact that that we did play somebody.”