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Boys Basketball: Killer Bees, Harding sting Settlers

Fittingly, the buzz in the Southold High School gym came from the Killer Bees.

The Bridgehampton Killer Bees boys basketball team looked the part Friday evening in their black away uniforms with the bright yellow lettering and numbers.

And J.P. Harding? Well, he stung like a bee.

That’s nothing new. Earlier this week, the senior forward broke 1,000 career points with a 37-point effort in a win over Port Jefferson. His father, Javon, was also a 1,000-point scorer for Bridgehampton, said Killer Bees coach Ronald White.

“He’s the type of player that’s willing to do whatever it takes to win the game,” White said of the younger Harding. “He’s a stud. He’s hard to stop.”

Southold can attest to that.

Harding helped Bridgehampton (3-3) find its way after a rocky first quarter, pushing the Killer Bees to an 85-55 runaway in the Suffolk County League VII opener for both teams.

“He’s just big, he’s strong and he knows how to play,” Southold power forward Max Kruszeski said. “He’s pretty damn good.”

The Harding factor — 34 points and 10 rebounds —combined with Southold (2-3) not having its best night proved to be a rough recipe for the First Settlers. Southold coach Lucas Grigonis said the Settlers strayed from their game plan, took too many forced shots and paid the price.

“We were trying to put pressure in the middle so there was help in the middle and we didn’t execute as well as we could,” he said. “I hate to say it again, but my only thought is when we have a game plan, we have to execute it … I think at times when there’s pressure on us, we feel like we have to make something happen rather than trust what we know.”

Southold, which went 7-14 last season, has a young team. The Settlers entered the season with nine years of varsity experience among the 13 players on their roster, six of whom are varsity rookies.

Steven Russell, in his third season, is the most veteran of the veterans, and he helped Southold off to a good start. Russell scored eight of his 18 points in the first quarter as the Settlers took a 14-9 lead. All nine of Bridgehampton’s points in the quarter came from Harding.

Bridgehampton shot 4-for-15 from the field in the opening quarter, but shot 25-for-41 (60.9 percent) the rest of the way.

Southold managed only two field goals in the second quarter and shot 34.8 percent for the game (0-for-17 from three-point distance). The First Settlers were also outrebounded, 47-32.

Things changed with the start of the second quarter. William Walker knocked down a couple of three-pointers from the corner as part of an 18-4 run that gave Bridgehampton a 25-18 lead. Harding had 12 of those points.

Bridgehampton never trailed after that. By halftime Harding had 23 points and Bridgehampton held a 34-23 lead.

It was a lead the Killer Bees expanded in the second half.

“I think [Harding] was just finding his spots,” White said. “Guys were finding him and he was going left or right. He knows how to put the ball in the [basket].”

Harding exited with 2 minutes and 49 seconds to go in the game.

“We definitely didn’t play our best game,” Southold forward Eric Connolly said. “We could have played better defense, but I know we’ll bounce back.”

Bridgehampton, a Class D regional finalist last season, isn’t a one-player team, Harding’s considerable talents aside. Naejon Ward registered 24 points, nine assists, five rebounds and three steals. Elijah White had 16 points and 16 rebounds. Walker totaled 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“They’re always going to be tough competition for us,” Grigonis said, “but every game is a measure for us and we have to learn from it.”

Nick Grathwohl provided Southold with 17 points, 13 rebounds and three assists.

“We still have the guys who want to win,” Kruszeski said. “It was kind of a setback today. We have stuff we have to work on.”

The Settlers have time. Their next game will not be until Wednesday at Smithtown Christian.

“I think the most important thing we can take out of this is we don’t want this to happen again,” Connolly said. “Definitely not our best game.”

This one stung.

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Photo caption: Southold coach Lucas Grigonis making a point to his players. (Credit: Bob Liepa)