In the midst of a blackout, Henry Brooks found the light.
Pierson’s do-it-all senior guard lit up Southold Friday night by scoring 29 points in a 60-43 victory over the visiting Settlers, a scrappy bunch who are expected to challenge the Whalers for the Suffolk County Class C title later this season.
The win was a belated Happy New Year gift to Pierson’s first-year head coach, Will Fujita, who graduated from Southold in 2012 and now patrols the sidelines for the upstart Whalers, whose fans showed up on Friday dressed in black to welcome their team back to League VIII competition and a fresh season of hope.
“These homes games, the loud gym, everyone cheering, it’s just a great atmosphere and a great place to win,” said Brooks, who scored the game’s first 10 points as the Whalers (4-6) jumped out to an early lead.
Brooks’s season-high scoring output left him at 959 for his career, 41 short of 1,000, a milestone he could reach at some point in the next two games, either Tuesday, January 6, at Bridgehampton or, more likely, back home on January 13 against Smithtown Christian.
But while Brooks is largely defined by his offensive prowess, it was defense that set the tone inside a packed house at Pierson High School on Friday. Brooks and Nick Egbert, the team’s all-senior starting backcourt, were all over the floor and routinely turned defense into offense, which has been the Whalers’ calling card this season.
“It’s a league game, we had home court advantage and we took advantage of that,” said Fujita, who admitted that a win over his alma mater was extra special. “Every day, you can always play defense. The whole team has bought into working hard every day. Now we need to work on keeping that energy on the road as well. “
Following the fast start by Brooks, Southold clawed its way back into the game and took a 17-15 lead on a basket by Nick Carr with just over four minutes remaining in the second quarter. Egbert, who has set the tone defensively for the Whalers all season, scored a basket at the buzzer to send the Whalers into halftime with a narrow 24-23 lead.
The Whalers pushed their lead to nine in the third quarter with Egbert and Brooks leading a 10-2 run out of the break. Southold kept things close until the early part of the fourth quarter. The lead was 10 with just under six minutes remaining when Pierson sophomore Wilson Bennett broke free for his first-ever in-game dunk, a one-handed throw down that sent the blacked-out crowd into a frenzy. The play punctuated a 13-3 run that put the game away.
Egbert finished with 14 points, Bennett had 13 and Peter Schaefer scored four as the only other Whalers with Brooks in the scoring column. Carr led Southold with 15 points and Nick Grathwohl had 12.
Tuesday night’s game between Pierson and Bridgehampton, which has struggled to an 0-4 start this season, is scheduled to tip-off at 6 p.m.