Boys’ Basketball Turns in Season for the Ages

The boys celebrate after winning the County Championship

The school’s 88th year was truly an historic one for our athletic teams. To put it into perspective, in 87 years the Bears had won three Long Island Championships and zero State Championships, but by the end of the winter season the total number of Long Island titles had doubled and the first state crown had been brought back to campus. 2009-2010 saw banners added to the walls of Swanson Gymnasium for 3 Long Island Championships, 4 County Championships, 2 League Championships, and the school’s first State Championship. Here is a recap of one of the teams that victoriously wore the blue and white..

The consistency and depth of the boys’ basketball program over the years is evidenced by the fact that each season begins with the goal of being County Champions. The Bears have been a mainstay in Class C since the late ’90s, reaching the County Final in 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2009, winning the school’s first boys’ title in 2007. Coming off a loss in the County title the year before, the boys knew they had the nucleus of a championship team. The Bears finished the regular season 11-3, good enough for 2nd in the league, highlighted by victories at Bridgehampton and against Greenport, who they had not beaten since Eli Knowles’ buzzer-beater stunned the Porters in 2007. However, the Blue and White was not satisfied with their 11-3 record, mainly because two of the losses came against a gritty Southold team, one of our fiercest rivals. Southold won a turnover-marred Friday night contest early in the season by 7, and then completed an undefeated regular season by defeating the Bears in a thriller, 51-50, before a boisterous crowd on Senior Night on the east end. What could have been a demoralizing result only galvanized the Brook who knew they would have another crack at the Settlers in only a week’s time.

Pandolfi eludes a Southold defender in the County Championship

On February 20th the Bears got their chance. On the day the students fled campus for spring break, the boys traveled to Longwood High School in the hopes of bringing back the 2nd County Championship in our boys’ basketball history. From the opening tip it was apparent that the Stony Brook faithful were about to witness a titanic clash. In a contest that featured eight lead changes and six ties, neither team saw their lead swell to more than 5 points. With 20 seconds remaining and Southold clinging to a 1-point lead, it appeared that the Settlers were going to again find a way to beat our boys for a third time, and they very well may have, had 2-time All-State player Tim Pandolfi not been wearing a blue jersey that day. The Stony Brook fans in attendance were already well aware of Pandolfi’s penchant for the dramatic when he sunk three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of last year’s County semifinal vs. Mercy, the last of which he double-clutched right out of a spin move. His latest heroic moment came with the season on the line. 20 ticks were left on the clock. Southold’s stingy defense was ready to suffocate a final gasp from our offense. The entire gym seemed to constrict with the weight of the moment. Tim, however, cooly stepped back five feet behind the 3-point arc and let go the biggest shot of his life to give the Bears a 47-45 lead, their first of the final frame.

A Southold player tries to deal with his 1st taste of defeat this season

The bench erupted, the crowd screamed with disbelief, and all of a sudden 19 seconds stood between the Brook and the title. The Bears got the stop they needed and Pandolfi was fouled, sending him to the free throw line. It was apropos that Pandolfi had a chance at the stripe with the game on the line. He was in a similar situation in the previous week’s battle against Southold and came up short, but this time he delivered, pushing the Blue and White lead to 49-45 with 13 seconds remaining. But alas, the Bears were not about to make it easy on coach Mike Hickey.

They fouled Southold’s Kevin Parma who connected on his first free throw to cut the lead to 3. He misfired on the second try but the always opportunistic Settlers’ offense scored on a layup with 2 seconds remaining to cut the lead to an uncomfortable 49-48. Pandolfi was promptly fouled and connected on the first but missed the second to leave Southold one last hope as Jon Cepelak heaved a 60-footer for the win. The desperate hurl was on line just enough to make the heart of every Brooker stop for just a moment before the shot harmlessly careened off the backboard, sending the blue-clad warriors into a euphoric celebration around the fallen bodies of the disbelieving Settlers. The undefeated Southold squad, ranked #4 in New York state, had to deal with the ignominy of finishing the regular season without blemish (18-0) but falling in the most important game of the year.

Instead, it was Pandolfi’s moment, shining brighter than any other player with his 27 points, including 12 of the Blue’s final 13, surely placing him in the pantheon of Stony Brook’s greatest postseason performers: Dan Shanks and his 30 points vs. Southampton in 1991, Robbie Marvin’s 39 points vs. Wyandanch in 1996, Jon Marvin’s 36 points vs. Eastport in 1998, and Lou Pizzichillo’s 31 points vs. Southold in 2007. The victory was made all the sweeter because it came against a worthy opponent and required every ounce of passion and purpose from the twelve dedicated Bears that made the moment possible.

Four days after the thrilling victory the Bears suited up against Greenport in the Class C/D Championship game and for the second time in a row the Brook came out on top vs. the Porters. Despite having to play without key scorer Logan Vimont, who was at home on spring break, the Bears did not search for excuses but banded together and found a way against All-County player Dantre Langhorne and his fast-breaking teammates. Tied at 21-21 heading into the 4th quarter, the Bears used six unanswered points to grab a quick lead. The Porters responded with a run of their own to tie a game that cried out for someone to step up and seize the moment. Pandolfi answered the call again by drilling a 3-pointer that gave the Brook a 30-27 lead, one they would not relinquish. Pandolfi again proved unflappable down the stretch, scoring 20 while burying five 3-pointers and a number of free throws while handling the ball under pressure. But perhaps the most important performance came from Jovan George who scored 18 as a dominant presence in the paint. The 48-37 victory was the boys team’s first ever in the C/D game.

Tim Pandolfi’s look says it all as the Bears clinched their 1st Long Island Championship

On March 9 the Bears traveled to Bay Shore High School with a small army of fans to take on Friends Academy, our former rival from the Ivy League days, with a trip to the New York State quarterfinals on the line. Pandolfi kept his string of superlative postseason performances intact by matching the Quaker point total for the first half: 12. The Bears led by ten at halftime and seemed on their way to a fairly uneventful victory; however, all good teams make adjustments and Friends did just that, holding the Brook without a field goal for the first six minutes of the third quarter. The war of attrition entered its final frame with Stony Brook holding a precarious 25-17 lead. Refusing to resign themselves to defeat, the Quakers battled back with a 9-4 scoring run to put them down a mere 3 points with 2:05 remaining.

Coach Hickey called a timeout before the decisive defensive stand of the game. The message was simple: The season is on the line and we need a stop. The hero of the last two weeks obliged yet again as Pandolfi stole the ball from the Quaker point guard and raced down the court for an uncontested layup, giving the Bears a 5-point lead with 48 seconds left to both the delight and relief of our fans. Pandolfi and Vimont were called upon to hit free throws in the closing seconds and came through, giving the Bears a hard-fought 35-29 victory and their first Long Island Championship in school history.  Pandolfi finished with a game-high 16 points and Vimont narrowly missed a double-double with 12 points and 9 rebounds.

Coaches Hickey, Hickey & Austin celebrate after the final buzzer sounds in the Long Island Championship

The thrilling win was also the Bears’ last of the year. They met a very strong Blind Brook team on March 12th at Pace University and battled well for over three quarters, even taking a brief lead in the fourth, before succumbing to the potent Trojan offense. The occasion, though disappointing, was tempered by the fact that hundreds of Brookers travelled upstate to support the team, made possible by a half-day of school. In the disappointing silence that filled the locker room after the game the boys came to the realization that the final memory was not what would define the 2010 campaign. They were champions three times over and had gone where no boys’ basketball team had ever dared to venture. The pain of watching the Trojans celebrate at center court would, with time, be overtaken by the memories of hugs and smiles and screams of jubilation that followed each of the thrilling wins they had enjoyed over the previous three weeks. It is a season that will not be soon forgotten, but one that the underclassmen will surely try to replicate in the coming year.


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