Wilson Bennett carried an oversized load for a freshman in the Pierson boys basketball team’s Suffolk County Class C outbracket playoff game against the Southold Settlers on Monday night. And he was up to just about every challenge.
The 14-year-old forward, who started the season on junior varsity but played his way into the varsity starting lineup, led Pierson with 27 points but came up just short in the end as his last-second jumper was blocked at the buzzer.
The 58-56 victory earned the Settlers an uneasy date with Greenport in the Suffolk Class C championship game on Wednesday after press time at Center Moriches High School. The Porters were heavily favored after they cruised to the League VII title this season and easily brushed aside most of their competition on the way to a 19-1 overall record.
Pierson and Southold, on the other hand, battled their way into the playoffs and found themselves in a win-or-go-home game on Monday. Pierson was without the services of its lone senior, Cooper Schiavoni, who had suffered a head injury a week earlier against Bridgehampton.
The Settlers came out quick and led by five points early but the Whalers turned defense into offense and took four-point leads into both the second and third quarters.
The lead grew to eight points early in the second half but the Settlers, playing in front a lively home crowd, clawed their way back with the hot hand of junior Nick Grathwohl leading the way. He finished with a game-high 28 points. A pair of free throws from Bennett sent Pierson to the final quarter clinging to a 46-45 lead.
Southold never led in the second half until Grathwohl hit a contested layup with 11 seconds remaining that put his team up by two. Bennett’s three-point attempt from the corner was blocked by Southold’s Steven Russell moments later, and the Whalers’ season came to a sudden end.
“They work really hard and they put their hearts into this game,” Pierson head coach Hank Katz said about his players afterward. “We lost to this team three times by a total of eight points. They’re a good team. I give them all the credit in the world. They beat us and they deserve to move on.”
Henry Brooks, Pierson’s top scorer, was held to just 10 points while Nick Egbert also scored 10 and played a scrappy game for a guard in the paint.
“When you see a team three times, there’s not much to game-plan,” Katz said. “Usually the team that gets the most rebounds and most points wins.
“We put our hearts on the floor tonight,” he continued. “It’s certainly not for lack of effort. I feel very fortunate to have been around these kids this year.”
Schiavoni will graduate but Brooks, Bennett, Egbert and other role players like Harry Cowen, Richard Barranco, Peter Schaefer and Habtamu Coulter are expected to return, along with players from a strong junior varsity team.
“It’s a bright future ahead,” Katz said.