By Gavin Menu and Michael Heller
Carl Johnson might have four more games as head coach of the Bridgehampton boys basketball team. If he wins all four, the Killer Bees will be tied for the most championships in the history of New York State high school basketball.
Talk about career-ending drama.
The Killer Bees, who will need a new head coach after Johnson retires following this season, were knocked from the overall Suffolk County tournament by Bridgehampton alumni Nick Thomas and his Center Moriches Red Devils, who advanced to face Southampton, the surprise winner in Class A, in the Small Schools final with a 60-44 victory in the B-CD game at Suffolk Community College in Selden on Friday.
Bridgehampton, meanwhile, will now turn its focus to the state Class D playoffs and a regional semifinal game at Mount Saint Mary’s College in Newburgh, most likely against S.S. Seward, the top-ranked Class D school from Section IX (Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster counties), which still had to play its county championship game this week.
‘I saw them earlier this year and they beat everybody by 15, 20 points,” Johnson said on Monday. “I would be very surprised if it was anybody but them.”
The winner of the regional semifinal will advance to face the winner from Section I (Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland, Westchester) and Section IV (Southern Tier) in a regional final on March 11, with the winner advancing to the state final four in Glens Falls over the weekend of March 17 to 19.
“My primary goal is to go upstate,” Johnson said following the game against Center Moriches, which turned 33 Killer Bee turnovers into 26 points. “Going into this week we were hoping to get two games, and if we had gotten a third one it would have been great too, but we wanted to get two games this week after the 10-day layoff, so we accomplished that goal. Now, next week is just getting back to the basics, trying to heal, and be prepared for March 6th.”
Thomas, who played point guard on Johnson’s 1996 state championship team at Bridgehampton, will also continue in the state playoffs once his Red Devils are finished with the Suffolk tournament. If they can get past Southampton on Tuesday, the Red Devils will face the Class AA winner for the overall county championship on Sunday, March 5, in Selden.
Thomas on Friday said he thought his team should have converted even more off the Killer Bees’ turnovers, something he will continue to work on as the playoffs progress. Center Moriches will face the Nassau County Class B winner on March 7 at SUNY – Old Westbury.
“We were up by 16 [at the half], but it wasn’t a dominant 16,” Thomas said of his team’s efforts against Bridgehampton. “We should have been up, I’d say, at least 30 points if we had capitalized on some of the easy buckets. I thought we did a great job on pressuring the ball and rotating, but again, we have to make that count.”
Tyiquon Nix and Nakia Durham each had 15 points for the Red Devils, while Elijah Jackson led the Killer Bees with 13. Elijah White, with 12 points, and Nykell Dean, with 11, also scored in double figures for Bridgehampton, which played its second straight game without starting forward J.P. Harding, the team’s leading scorer who is out with a fractured wrist. Harding on Friday said he is hopeful he will be able to play, but Johnson on Monday said Harding would get a second opinion on whether his injured wrist will be ready for action by Monday.
“He’s feeling good,” Johnson said about Harding. “The good thing that came out of this is Nykell came into his own and is playing with a lot more confidence. So if J.P. is back, that just makes us even better.”