Westbury PG Tyrece Redd sent a text message to the rest of the team's starting five last Sunday night, before they took on South Side in the Nassau 'A' semi-finals.
"I was watching the Lebron James movie, and his team was at the same point we were", said Redd, who was academically ineligible at the time. "I felt bad for not being able to help my team. I told them I loved them, and I'd do whatever it took to get back on the team and help them for the county finals." After a season of ups and downs, the year-round tight knit Westbury unit went into the championship game with something they haven't had all year- their complete starting five. The game wasn't pretty, but the Green Dragons went on to edge their league rival Elmont Spartans, 45-42, and continue their quest for a state chip.
"After that final buzzer sounded I felt like I wanted to cry", said Sheldon Hagigal, who was out of action for most of the regular season for everything from an injury to personal issues.
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From both teams' sloppy play to technical problems with the shot clock, the game's start was anything but smooth. The Dragons were able to maintain an early edge, thanks to 6'6 junior center Lucens Victor's aggressiveness on the boards and shot blocking prowess. Westbury held serve in the second quarter when the did what they do best, which is turn the game into a track meet and beat teams on the open floor. But a nervous showing at the free throw line -they shot 5 for 10 in the first half- and overall sloppiness allowed Elmont to pull close with a 6-0 run, capped by a trey from junior guard Devin Guerre.
"In the beginning of the game, it was hard for us to start clicking", said Redd. "We had to start talking to each other to get our momentum back." Elmont's push became a 10-1 run when PG Dean Walker knocked down a pull up off the dribble to tie it at 18 at the start of the second half. The score at that point was a good indication of both teams' rust, and missed lay-ups didn't help.
"We played hard, but we also played a little sloppy", admitted Hagigal. Inside play and solid free throw shooting from 6'5 Anthony Elechi lifted Elmont back within four, but Westbury tightened up their strings in the fourth quarter to get some spacing. Redd's ESP with his teammates kicked in, and he got the Dragons on the good foot with a steal that found its way to a streaking to the hoop Paris Abrams and a bucket off of a Hagigal assist. Ice water free throws from Lamard Herron clinched Westbury their first double digit lead of the game, 44-34, but Elmont wouldn't let them get away that easy. Dillon Williams led an Elmont charge with a fast break bucket and a put back, and all of a sudden the Spartans were within five, 45-40, with 1:15 left to play. The air at Hofstra got thick when Dominique Williams' up and under lay-up with 47 seconds left made it a 45-42 game. The Spartans had a chance to tie it, but when the shot rimmed out, the oft unheralded Victor was the one who saved the day with 5 seconds left.
"Mr. (Doris) Capsis, our athletic director, comes up to me before every game and tells me that every rebound is mine", said Victor, Westbury's lone player over 6'3. "I always try to step up and play strong down there". Hagigal couldn't convert on the one and one on the other end, and Elmont had one last possession and one prayer. But Herron -a defensive dynamo in is own right- stole the ball to secure a huge win over a team that had Westbury's number twice during the regular season.
"Elmont played tough today, but we turned the ball over a lot and I still think we're 30 points better than them", said Herron, a senior and the heart and soul of the team. "Winning is always good, but there's no better feeling than winning with your brothers, and we've all been playing together since we were six years old". Winning is even better when done in the face of one tribulation after the other, and the Dragons are no strangers to adversity.
"It was a struggle all year for us, so to be able to win the championship with our whole team is a magical feeling", said Head Coach David Graff after winning his first county chip while at the helm. "There's such a proud tradition of Westbury Basketball, everyone from Ed Krinsky to Bunky Reid to Dwight Gibson. They were fantastic coaches, and for me to be able to add to that legacy is so humbling. I'm proud today."
Sheldon Hagigal led Westbury with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Lamard Herron added 6 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals. Tyrece Redd chipped in with 8 points and 7 rebounds and Lucens Victor, 7 points and 9 rebounds. Dean Walker's 10 points led Elmont.
Westbury will take on Suffolk County's Harborfields HS next Saturday, March 13th at Hofstra for the Long Island Class 'A' Championship (1PM start).