The East Hampton High School boys and girls basketball teams began their seasons on the right foot this past week as the boys, thanks to a 20-4 third quarter, reeled in the Eastport-Manor Sharks, and as Ashley Rojas, in cool-cookie fashion, made both ends of a one-and-one in the final seconds to defeat Westhampton Beach 31-29.
“My stomach can’t take any more of this,” a weary, but elated Howard Wood said after his team’s win here Saturday afternoon. “But I will say this, they’re the best group I’ve ever had. They’re young and willing to work, and they don’t complain. . . . We played good defense today, a 2-3 zone that we’d just put in. It was Ashley’s first time in that situation, and having been through it myself, I can tell you it’s not easy, especially when the other coach calls a timeout after you’ve made the first one.”
The boys, who played here Friday evening, were cold in the first half of their nonleaguer with Eastport-South Manor. “We had open shots, but for whatever reason they weren’t dropping,” Bill McKee, the boys coach, said after the 53-33 win.
Things began to jell in the third, however, as Rolando Garces, an explosive senior who has improved greatly since last year, Juan Cuevas (two), and Danny McKee knocked down 3s, and as Thomas King, who did a good job in distributing the ball to them, went 2-for-2 from the foul line. In addition, Garces made good on two fast-break layups, and McKee put back a Cuevas miss that had been rebounded by Thomas Nelson.
Afterward, Bob Vacca, Bill McKee’s assistant, said, eyeing the stat sheet, “We were 6-for-31 in the first half, but in the second half we were 12-for-21, including 5-for-10 from 3-point range. And our defense was very good. It helped us until we could get the ball in the basket.”
“It was a good first game — we moved the ball well and were a little more patient in the second half, and we played consistent defense,” said McKee, who added that four of his players had contributed significantly under the boards — King with eight rebounds, and Garces, Nelson, and Cuevas with seven each.
The scoring was balanced as well. King, who did not have a particularly good shooting night, but who, in the words of his coach, “did many other things well,” finished with 15 points; Cuevas had 13, Garces 11, and Danny McKee 9.
Back to the girls, they too got off to a slow start, shooting 1-for-14 from the floor in the first quarter. Going into the second period, they trailed 11-4, prompting Wood to say in the huddle, “You’ve had 10 layups and missed them all — stop trying to look for Kaelyn [Ward, East Hampton’s stellar guard]. And their little bitty guards are killing us on the boards. You should be up by 7 rather than down by 7 now.”
The second quarter, during which the Bonackers played better defense, things began to go better. It ended at 17-13 in the visitors’ favor as Rojas was fighting for possession of the ball.
Two quick baskets by Ward, the second following a steal by Sophia DePasquale, enabled East Hampton to tie the score at 17-17 in the opening minutes of the third, and the battle was joined.
Wood and Louis O’Neal’s charges trailed by 4 points at the one-minute mark, but a big 3 by Ward brought the Bonackers to within one, at 29-28, and, with 13.5 seconds left, Jackie Messemer was fouled. She went to the line for a 1-and-1, and coolly made the first to tie the game, after which Westhampton’s coach called for a timeout. When play resumed — and after Wood had urged his young players to shout “Victory on three” — Messemer’s second shot bounced off the back of the rim and Westhampton rebounded. At the other end of the court, however, Rojas stole the ball and was promptly fouled, earning herself a 1-and-1. She made the first, wresting a 30-29 lead back for the home team. And, following another Westhampton timeout, and with five seconds left on the clock, as aforesaid, Rojas calmly swished her second attempt through the nets.
Westhampton dashed down the court for a last chance, but DePasquale deflected a pass, and the ball was in Messemer’s hands when time ran out.