SUFFOLK COUNTY CLASS C TOURNAMENT | WHALERS 60, FIRST SETTLERS 46
Sooner or later, the end comes for all of them, the great players and the no-so-great alike. On Thursday night, it was Liam Walker’s turn to make his exit from his storied high school basketball career.
The final result seemed virtually assured by the time the fourth quarter started, so Walker and his Southold teammates couldn’t help but see the end coming. When it became official with the final buzzer at Pierson High School, Walker carefully untucked his jersey, took off his wristband and joined his teammates as they lined up to shake hands with the Pierson players. Disappointment was written across the senior’s face.
Just like that, the high school career of one of the best players to wear a Southold uniform came to an end.
Southold’s struggles with nightmarish shooting, contrasted against Pierson’s deadly 3-point shooting and dominance on the boards, made all the difference. Ben Kushner banged in four 3-pointers and scored 19 points as second-seeded Pierson romped over the No. 3 First Settlers, 60-46, in the Suffolk County Class C Tournament outbracket game.
With its ninth win in 10 games, Pierson (11-8) advances to the county final against No. 1 Stony Brook (12-4) on Monday at William Floyd High School.
It may not be easy to beat a team three times in one season, but Pierson did it. The Whalers had defeated Southold (10-9) twice during the regular season, 53-37 and 57-46. Southold’s shooting woes cost it a fourth straight loss.
The First Settlers had fan support. When they entered the gym for pregame warmups, their followers chanted, “Southold! Southold!”
Perhaps inspired by their vocal fans, the First Settlers started the game well for the first several minutes, with one notable exception — their shots were not falling.
After Pat Mejsak sank a pair of free throws for the game’s first points and Southold’s only lead of the game, the First Settlers didn’t score again until Greg Gehring converted a conventional 3-point play with 1 minute 9 seconds left in the first quarter.
The First Settlers opened the game with frigid 2-for-19 shooting from the field. Pierson capitalized. The Whalers assumed a 24-7 lead with the help of a 16-0 run that saw 3-pointers by Kushner, Keith Ellis, Andrew James and Kushner again.
The First Settlers shot 5 of 27 in the first half, yet trailed by only 10 points at halftime, 26-16, when it felt like they could have been behind by more.
Pierson didn’t give the Southolders much encouragement when it started the third quarter with a free throw by Stephen Musnicki and successive treys by Sean Sloane and James.
The Whalers, who shot 8 of 22 from beyond the 3-point arc, stretched their lead. They led by as many as 21 points with 2:34 to go in the game.
An 8-for-16 fourth quarter boosted Southold’s final shooting percentage to 31.7 percent, but did little else. It was too little, too late.
Southold didn’t get too many second chances at the basket, either. The First Settlers were outrebounded, 43-25, and limited to 8 offensive rebounds.
Robbie Evjen, Pierson’s 6-foot-2 senior, hurt the First Settlers more with his 22 rebounds than his 15 points.
In his final game for the First Settlers, Walker totaled 8 points, 7 assists, 7 steals and 2 rebounds. He finished with 1,180 career points, averaging 16.2 points per game for his career. This season he averaged 18.4.
Another one of Southold’s eight seniors, Shayne Johnson, led his side with 11 points.