GARDEN CITY, NY - It's been since the 1979-1980 season that Farmingdale last raised a Nassau County basketball championship banner, but on Saturday, the Dalers had the chance to change that when they took on conference rivals Uniondale at Adelphi University for the Class "AA" title.
The two teams split a pair of contests during the regular season in low scoring games, and another gritty and tough game broke out in this one. Uniondale stormed back after trailing by as many as 13 in the 2nd half, but a last second three ball by Knights junior guard Shomari Redd fell short, and the Dalers had the title they so desperately wanted, beating Uniondale for the crown, 38-35.
On Friday, Farmingdale Head Coach Jim Pastier brought his team down to their gym for the last time before the title game, and he gave a passionate speech on what this game meant not just for them, but for everyone who has ever represented the school.
"I brought the kids into the gym yesterday, turned them towards the banner that's hanging up from '79-'80 and told these guys you have a chance to make history, not only for yourselves but for the past 34 years of guys who have walked through the hallways and sweated on the floor and sacrificed everything and maybe fell a little short, this was going to be for everyone," Pastier said to his team.
It was a speech that Dalers stars, senior guard Curtis Jenkins and senior forward Ron Winkler both said had them pumped up and ready to go, and they came out extremely motivated as they took control early on.
The pressure defense applied seemed to take the Uniondale guard duo of Redd and senior Imran Ritchie out of their rhythm. Winkler was able to finish in the paint strong, and Jenkins had 9 first half points to see Farmingdale go up 21-13 at the break. It was a low scoring affair, but that is Farmingdale vs. Uniondale. Their prior two meetings this season were 47-46 and 41-39, so it was no shock that this was going to be more of the same.
Farmingdale upped the lead to 30-17 after senior guard Malik Seelal putback a Jenkins miss with 2:14 left in the 3rd, and even though they seemed in control, Pastier said he knew a Uniondale run was coming, and he was proved right.
A big moment was when Winkler picked up his 4th foul right after Farmingdale grabbed the 13 point cushion. He went to the bench, and the Knights aggression picked up, knowing it was now or never, which is something that Uniondale coach Tom Diana expected.
"I knew we wouldn't quit until the final buzzer sounded, and I knew Imran would do whatever he could to get us back into it," Diana said.
Ritchie did just that as the Uniondale tight defense led to multiple turnovers, and the senior, who had been on the Knights team that has lost in this game the prior two years, seemed to pick his team up and carry them, scoring 9 points in a 4 minute span, including back to back threes that led Uniondale on a 14-0 run to eventually grab at 31-30 lead with 4:42 to go in the game.
While obviously devastated by losing the once big lead, Jenkins during a timeout spoke up and did what he felt he could do to calm his team down.
"I just said that we've been in this position before, Uniondale did it to us earlier this year going on a 12-0 against us, so when we got back to the bench I said ok, that's done, let's get it back now," Jenkins explained.
The 6'0" senior wasn't just a vocal leader; he ended up also hitting one of the biggest shots of the game. With Farmingdale down 33-32 with 2:49 to go, Jenkins, who isn't known for being a prolific three point shooter, knocked a clutch shot down to give the Dalers back a 2 point edge.
Pastier called the trey in that spot "phenomenal", while Jenkins said it was just a shot he felt like he had to make.
"I consider myself a playmaker and that was a play I had to make right there for the team," the two sport star said.
Uniondale from that point on struggled mightily from the floor, and Farmingdale could've put the game on ice, but the Dalers couldn't hit a FT late, going 2 for 12 in the 4th quarter, and 6 of 25 for the game, which kept Uniondale around, and gave Diana hope that something good could happen for his Knights.
"I thought we had a chance, and we got good looks at it, two really good ones in the closing seconds, but neither fell," Diana said. "That's life."
It was 38-35 Farmingdale when Uniondale had their two chances. Ritchie got a straightway three look that was blocked by Seelal in what was a fantastic defensive play by a player Pastier calls his best on that side if the court, but after Seelal missed a pair of FT's with 7 seconds left, the Knights had one more chance.
Redd got the ball not he left wing, and had a pretty good look at the basket, but his shot fell off the left side of the iron as time expired and Farmingdale celebrated, with fans and alums storming the court as the won their first Nassau County "AA" title since 1980, taking down Uniondale to do it, 38-35.
Jenkins led Farmingdale with 14 points, while Winkler had 8 points and 12 rebounds in the win.
In defeat, Ritchie had a game high 15 points, along with 8 rebounds and 4 assists, with senior forward Alan McDonald adding 7 points and 9 rebounds.
Jenkins, who is an All-Long Island football player with a County title in that sport, called this win the best of his life, because of how long the Dalers had gone without a title in basketball, adding that the length of wait makes the satisfaction even greater.
"Farmingdale has tried for years and years to do this, and we have finally done it," Jenkins explained. "It's so amazing I can't even put this feeling into words."
It's been 34 years of heartache and wait, but it's all over now with another Nassau County banner soon to be put up next to the lone one hanging in the school now, and while Farmingdale now moves onto the Long Island Class "AA" championship game for the right to go and play for a state title, it was easy to tell that Pastier has been focused on this game, and this game only.
"We play Brentwood I think," Pastier said with a smile. "It's been one game at a time for us so that hasn't even been on my mind, but we will enjoy this one now and get ready for that one tomorrow."
Valley Stream South Ousts Hewlett, 66-56
In the Nassau County Class "A" championship game, held right before the "AA" contest on Saturday, Hewlett came out hot, grabbing an 11 point lead after one, but the Falcons buckled down, and sophomore forward Hall Elisias and sophomore guard Dana King did a great job of shutting down Bulldogs star forward, senior Avery Feldman, as South fought back and grabbed the "A" title, 66-56.
Falcons coach Matt Johnsen said that his senior guard Will Knight, who he coached on JV football as a freshmen, gave him warning this day would come.
"He kept telling me then, LIC coach, we will get to a Long Island Championship in basketball," Johnson said. "I just laughed because we had never gotten there before, we hadn't even won a conference title before, so it seemed so farfetched."
Little did he know that Knight would be scoring 14 points just 3 years later to help that dream come true.
It didn't start out well for VS South, with Feldman hitting a pair of threes early on to give Hewlett a 22-11 lead after one,
Johnsen said he felt he bright lights of the big game may have affected his team a bit early on, but that he saw right away the things they needed, and could do, to get back in it, and take the game.
"I saw the opening right away, we just had to let the lights dim a little bit and hit that opening and I knew we would be ok," Johnsen said.
That's what happened as King started to control the pace of the game in the 2nd half, with King and Elisias limiting Feldman to just 1 FG made in the 2nd half, stymieing his chances to score, something that King knew was important if they wanted to win.
"I did what I could to deny him the ball up top and never gave him room to get comfortable, and my man Hall did what he did against him inside," King said.
After Valley Stream South took their first lead of the game late in the 3rd quarter, they never looked back, and it's as Knight late in the game who hit clutch FT after clutch FT to seal the deal as his words proved true, bringing VS South their first ever Nassau County basketball title, defeating Hewlett in comeback fashion, 66-56.
King led all scorers in the game with 18 points, including 12 in the 2nd half, while Elisias had 15 points and 15 rebounds, and Knight added 14.
Junior guard Messiah Clark paced the way for the Bulldogs with 16 points, while Feldman struggled, finishing with a season low 10 points in the loss.
Johnsen said this may be the biggest moment in the school's athletic history, and while he knows that's it's an amazing achievement, he says they aren't stopping here with a Long Island Class "A" championship game against John Glenn slated for next Saturday at Hofstra.
"We will celebrate tonight and give them off tomorrow since I'm sure they will be out late, but we will be back at it Monday and start chopping up a plan for Glenn."