By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller
A community-wide celebration combined with action-packed drama inside a jam-packed Pierson High School gymnasium Friday night, where it seemed like all of Sag Harbor turned out for the Sag Harbor Booster Foundation’s 6th Annual Spirit Night.
The event has come to encapsulate children of all ages — and their parents — with events from start to finish designed to involve various segments of the school community.
“It’s not even 5 o’clock and I’ve already lost my voice,” Eric Bramoff, the district athletic director and one of the driving forces behind Spirit Night said moments before the Pierson/Bridgehampton girls basketball team tipped off against Southold/Greenport. “We can’t thank the Booster Foundation enough.”
Not even a 69-65 loss by the Lady Whalers could dampen the spirit of what had to be one of the largest crowds ever at Pierson. Official crowd numbers were not kept, of course, but it’s hard to imagine how school officials could have squeezed in many more bodies.
“I grew up here and I don’t ever remember such electricity in the air,” Pierson boys basketball coach Hank Katz said after his Whalers came away with a 63-54 victory over Southold in the night’s main event. “It was so exciting.”
Sag Harbor Youth Hoop basketball games brought out children and their parents for the first game of the night, which the Lady Whalers all but gave away in the first two quarters as they trailed by 11 going into the second half.
The Lady Whalers were back at full strength after injuries ravaged their roster during the early part of the season. Despite the return of Lily Kot, one of the team’s best all-around players, Pierson dropped its fifth game in a row, causing concern for head coach Kevin Barron, whose team got off to a tremendous start to the season and clawed its way back to take a lead in the fourth quarter on Friday only to have it slip away in the final moments.
“Our defense was very poor tonight,” Barron said after the game before he slipped into workout gear for the Teachers vs. First Responders exhibition game that followed. “We have to get out of this rut we’re in.”
Nia Dawson, a senior from Bridgehampton, led the Lady Whalers with 24 points while Kot had 17. Southold’s Madison Tabor had a strong all-around game and finished with 25 points to lead all scorers. The Lady Whalers dropped to 6-6 in League VII play with just four games remaining on the schedule.
Pierson senior Alyssa Kneeland injured her foot during practice on Thursday, an unfortunate turn of events considering Friday was her final day as a student at Pierson. Kneeland, who graduated early and will travel for the next several months before coming home to prepare for college, had some choice words for the Spirit Night crowd on Friday.
“Coming from a small town it’s just so nice to come here and see everybody from different grades, people who have already graduated, people who are in the elementary school who come together and support us,” said Kneeland, who scored a ceremonious first basket to end her career at Pierson. “Even if we lose, we’re still there to pick each other up, and I think that is what this night is all about.”
The boys game followed a night of performances by the school’s robotics and cheerleader teams and national anthems by the middle and high school choruses. The boys cruised to victory behind 25 points from junior Will Martin, who has been on a tear in terms of scoring this season and is averaging 26 points per game during a current three-game win streak. Spencer Chase chipped in with 14 points against Southold, including nine during a critical third quarter, and Sean Sloane had 10. As a result of the win, the Whalers improved to 4-2 in League VIII and need to win two of their last four games to automatically qualify for the postseason.
“Defensively we’re starting to play really well,” Katz said as the night came to a close. “We need everybody. We need to be a complete team on both ends of the floor to compete.”