It was the kind of playoff game a high school basketball player is never going to forget -- and the kind of loss that will fuel a returning team all the way to a different outcome next season.
Pierson (Sag Harbor) High School got off to a slow and somewhat sloppy start on Friday, trailing Haldane High School of Putnam County (Section I) for nearly the entire game, right up until the 57-53 final in Haldane's favor in the New York State Class C Southeast Regional final at Eastport-South Manor High School.
"The credit goes to Haldane," said Will Fujita, coach of the Whalers, who end their season with a 15-9 record. "They had a great game plan for us."
For Pierson, Aven Smith, a 6-foot-4 junior forward, had a standout game with 25 points. He was named "Unsung Hero" in league play this year, "and this is exactly why. He never looks for any of the shine," Fujita said. "He's like fourth or fifth in scoring on our team and for him to be able to show up to a game like this and play like that, that's the kind of kid he is."
Pierson's Luke Seltzer, another 6-4 junior forward, often had to step in to manage trouble spots, as with the 3-pointer he hit with 2:53 left in the game that tied the score at 51. Seltzer finished with 19 points, including all six of his free-throw attempts.
The Whalers struggled to score down low as Haldane forced them to try 3-pointers seemingly more often than they wanted to. "We needed those last few possessions" but couldn't convert them into points, Fujita said.
He anticipates having all of his starters back next season. Pierson will graduate just one senior, Fritz Desir, who captained the team along with Seltzer and Smith.
It was Haldane's Matteo Cervone who set the tone. The 6-4 senior, who surpassed 1,000 career points on Jan. 28, showed up in every way on Friday -- scoring, rebounding, defense, hustle, heart.
"He was a monster," the Blue Devils' head coach, Joe Virgadamo, said after the game.
Haldane, with a 20-4 record, advances to the state Class C semifinal game in Glens Falls next week.
"These are the games you've got to win to keep the journey going. This is what we expected," Virgadamo said. "We expected a 5-point game. And we still have some room for improvement, but we worked on situations all year to be mentally and physically ready for a game like this, and it paid off. These guys were dogs all night. They just wanted to keep this season going, and it's emotional. We're going up to Glens Falls together."