Bears Kings of County for 3rd Straight Year

Colarusso drives through traffic (Photo credit: Newsday)
Colarusso drives through traffic (Photo credit: Newsday)

If you’re going to root for the Stony Brook boys’ basketball team, make sure you have a defibrillator nearby.

The Bears gutted out a thrilling 44-39 comeback win over Pierson this evening to claim their third consecutive Suffolk County Class C Championship. The win capped a wild twelve days during which the “Cardiac Kids” won three games by a combined eight points, including a one-point win over Pierson on February 4 that gave them the #1 seed in the playoffs.

As the old idiom goes, “familiarity breeds contempt,” and these two teams have seen plenty of each other over the last handful of years. Today’s match-up was the fourth consecutive meeting between the Bears and Whalers in the County Final, with the Bears taking the previous two titles by a combined 56 points. The Bears won both meetings this season by a total of four points in two hotly contested games. To say the Whalers wanted revenge would be an understatement. Pierson’s Ben Kushner summed up those sentiments, telling the Sag Harbor Express on Thursday, “We know what we need to do. We lost to Stony Brook by three the first time, by one the second time, and we don’t plan on losing again.”

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As the first quarter began to unfold, it looked as though Kushner would prove prophetic. The Whalers ran off the first six points of the game before building a 10-2 lead midway through the quarter. The Bears’ shots weren’t falling, including a layup that seemed to defy the laws of physics, they appeared timid on offense, and their big man, Jyles Etienne, was sidelined with two quick fouls. A creeping feeling of unease descended on the Blue and White faithful. Mac Bohuny provided a needed wake-up call for his teammates and the fans with an old-fashioned 3-point play on a tough layup. The key play helped settle the Bears down. They got a needed stop and Chester Kayonga followed with a score to cut the Pierson lead to 7-10 by the quarter’s end, a gift in light of how poorly they played early on.

As cold as the Bears were to start the game, that’s how hot they got in the second quarter, coupling that with a suffocating man-to-man defense to charge into the lead. After Bohuny connected on a free throw to cut the deficit to 8-10, Robbie Colarusso hit a very difficult, double-clutch layup to even the score. Pierson responded with a 3-pointer, but the Bears countered with four consecutive threes of their own to grab a nine-point edge. Colarusso sank the first one, banking it off the glass with only a second left on the shot clock. On the next possession, Pierson again forced the Brook to use up their shot clock, but Harry Zhu hit a miraculous, one-handed heave at the buzzer, sending a charge through the Blue Fan Group and visibly deflating the Sag Harbor faithful. After two more defensive stops for the Brook, Colarusso drilled two consecutive three-pointers, the second of which right in front of the Pierson bench, to give the Bears a 22-13 lead and whip the Blue Fan Group into a frenzy. After two Pierson free throws, Kayonga connected on a beautiful mid-range jumper to maintain the edge. The Whalers, despite taking the Bears’ best shot, showed their mettle by sandwiching two trifectas around a Colarusso layup to head into the half down by just five points. Colarusso was the catalyst, scoring 13 of the Bears’ 19 points in the frame.

The Whalers took the floor in the third quarter with renewed vigor, tying the game almost immediately on an old-fashioned three-point play and a layup. Luke O’Connor responded with a pretty step-back trifecta, but they would be the only points of the quarter for the Brook. The Whalers scored the last nine points of the frame to take a five-point lead into the decisive fourth quarter.

Early in the fourth, Luke Meyer cut the deficit to four with a free throw, but Pierson converted a layup to push the lead to six with under six minutes left in the game. At that moment, coach Mike Hickey made a crucial call: put on the press. In the last meeting with the Whalers twelve days ago, the Bears rode their full court press to a comeback win and today’s script followed a familiar pattern. From the moment the press went on, the Brook outscored Pierson 14-3 to close out the championship. It began with an open court steal by Meyer and a layup from Etienne. Meyer followed by pilfering the inbounds pass, eventually leading to a huge three-pointer from Zhu to cut Pierson’s lead to 35-36. After a Pierson timeout, Meyer came up with another steal and layup to vault the Blue and White into the lead. Pierson, refusing to go down without a fight, scored their last field goal of the game to take a 38-37 lead. A crucial possession ensued for the Bears and Luke O’Connor stepped up when his team needed him most.

The sharpshooting lefty drilled the biggest three-pointer of his career (so far) with 2:15 remaining to give the Bears the lead back, then Bohuny came up with a huge steal on the ensuing Pierson possession. After a Stony Brook miss, Etienne came up with the most important rebound of the game, eventually drawing a foul from Pierson’s Robbie Evjen to maintain possession for the Bears. Coach Hickey called a timeout, during which the Blue Fan Group almost drowned out his instructions to his team. After the break, Meyer grabbed a rebound and, while falling out of bounds, gave a gorgeous pass to Etienne underneath who almost slammed the door on Pierson with a dunk, but settled for a crucial layup with 1:33 left. Evjen drew a foul on the next possession, but connected on just one of two free throws. Pierson was forced to foul as the Bears took over possession, putting Colarusso on the line with 30 seconds remaining. The gutsy senior connected on both free throws to give the Brook an insurmountable five-point lead. Pierson’s 3-point attempt fell short on their next possession and the rebound, which looked as though it was going to fall into the hands of a Pierson player for a wide open layup, instead glanced off his foot and rolled harmlessly out of bounds, sounding the final death knell for the Whalers. As the final seconds ticked away, anxiety melted into exuberance as the boys flooded the floor to celebrate while the Blue Fan Group roared its approval.

*     *     *

Colarusso led the Bears with 17 points. The balanced scoring continued with O’Connor (6 points), Zhu (6), Kayonga (4), Bohuny (4), Etienne (4), and Meyer (3). The leadership that Colarusso and Meyer provided today was vital to the Bears’ success. Colarusso provided the scoring punch for the Brook when points were hard to come by and gave necessary toughness down the stretch by handling the ball and knocking down key free throws. To solely look at Meyer’s three points is to completely miss what he did today. Without Luke Meyer we don’t win today. His defense was monumental, particularly on the press during the most important stretch of the game. He also engineered the game-sealing play with an assist to Etienne, making it look easy in the process. He is inexplicably always in the right place at the right time. Those two, teammates since the fourth grade, have been the heartbeat of the team all season and the same was true today.

Once again defense proved to be the difference for the Brook. In the 2013 Championship the Bears turned a narrow, four-point halftime edge into a 30-point win thanks to a 17-1 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters. In last year’s County Final, Brandon Odom held Pierson’s Forrest Loesch, one of Suffolk’s most prolific scorers, to just four points as the Bears rolled to a 26-point win. This year, the Bears held Pierson to just 39 points, their lowest output of the season. Additionally, Meyer held Ben Kushner, one of Suffolk’s 3-point leaders with 50 made on the season, to zero points. Hunter Skorobohaty did a masterful job guarding Evjen, playing crucial minutes while Etienne was in foul trouble for most of the game.

The win was not just the gratifying realization of a goal the Bears had been working toward since the summer; it was a historic one as well. With the win they became just the second team in Class C history to win three consecutive titles, matching Wyandanch’s run from 1981 to 1983. It also gave them a fifth title in program history, good enough for third all-time in Class C behind only Center Moriches (10) and Wyandanch (7).

Special thanks must be given to the Blue Fan Group for their unrivaled support today. This Championship always falls during our spring break when most of the student body disperses to the four corners of the globe, typically resulting in a meager showing. This year was different. The Blue and White faithful arrived in force and helped the boys wade through adversity on the way to another title.

The Bears advance to the C/D Championship game on Saturday, Feb. 21. Win or lose they continue on in the Class C State playoffs. The Regional Championship will be held Friday, March 13 at Suffolk Community College-Selden.



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