If Saturday’s high school boys nonleague basketball game between Pierson and East Hampton was any indication, the gyms here will be warm indeed this winter.
Following the Bonackers’ 72-69 win, which went down to the wire despite the fact that the Whalers’ star, Forrest Loesch, had to sit out the final four minutes with a foot injury, the coaches — Dan White of Pierson and Bill McKee of East Hampton — heaped praise upon each other.
The Whalers, a Class C team (East Hampton is an “A”), were down by 12 points at the beginning of the second quarter, but replied with a 13-4 run to take a 26-24 lead on a 3-pointer by Micah Hemby with 2:33 left until the half.
East Hampton took a slim 30-26 lead into halftime, by which time three East Hampton starters — Thomas Nelson, Dan McKee, and Kyle McKee — had amassed three fouls, and two Pierson starters — Robbie Evjen and Duncan Bennett, each of whom were to foul out (Bennett in the third quarter and Evjen in the fourth) — had three.
A 3-pointer by Cooper Marienfeld wrested the lead back for Pierson, at 34-32, early in the third, and midway through the frame the Whalers were up by 8 before East Hampton, hitting from inside and out, fought back to 48-50 by the end of the period.
In the fourth, East Hampton took advantage of Pierson’s extended defense — “They had guys who could hit from all five spots,” White was to say afterward — by cutting to the hoop.
A baseline floater by Kyle McKee, a hard-playing sophomore, tied the score at 50-50 when the final quarter began, and moments later Kevin Fee, a freshman guard who plays with poise, fed McKee for another basket.
Fee followed a foul shot by Loesch with another drive to the hoop, for 54-51, and the Bonackers were not to yield the lead thereafter, though the Whalers, who were down to their ninth and 10th men, weren’t about to give them any breathing room.
One of Pierson’s subs, Sean Sloane, made two free throws with 36 seconds remaining, bringing Pierson to 70-69. Ian Barrett, Pierson’s senior point guard, fouled Brendan Hughes on the subsequent inbounds play at midcourt. Hughes made the first of his two tries at the line, to which Nelson tacked on another free throw, for a 72-69 lead, in the last second.
Pierson was able to get off a final shot, though, a credible 3-point attempt by Marienfeld. The ball floated up, Bonac fans held their breath, and it came to rest pinned between the right side of the rim and the glass.
“Our defense was a little suspect during the final minutes because we were in foul trouble,” White said, “but I’m very proud of the way we played. I thought going in that we were seven to eight deep. Now I know we’re nine to 10 deep, which is a good feeling.”
“Ian had a great performance, Duncan was a little too aggressive, though that can be fixed, and I thought Robbie was hosed on a couple of those calls. . . . But credit East Hampton, they can shoot.”
“It looks like last year all over again,” said McKee. “Pierson’s a good team.”
“They wouldn’t quit,” interjected McKee’s assistant (and former Pierson star), Bob Vacca, who added that Fee and Kyle McKee worked very well together at the end — “they showed they weren’t afraid.”
The elder McKee said the fact that Pierson had corralled 10 offensive rebounds in the first half “was real disappointing, but they only had one in the second half.”
Six different East Hampton players accounted for nine 3-pointers; five different Whalers accounted for 10.
Loesch, despite his sidelining, led all shooters with 20 points. Barrett had 18.
Four East Hamptoners finished in double figures — Dan McKee, with 16, Kyle McKee, with 15, Brandon Kennedy-Gay, with 12, and Hughes, with 10. Zach Tilstra had 8.
Vacca said that East Hampton shot 18-for-33 from the floor, a nice percentage.