During the regular season, the Southampton boys basketball team experienced the frustration of two single-digit losses to rival Babylon, the team that has been its nemesis for years. That frustration dated back to last year’s county championship game as well, when the Mariners were trounced by the Panthers in an 82-57 game.
Southampton head coach Herm Lamison never forgot about that lopsided loss and, apparently, neither did his team.
In a rematch of last year’s county final, Southampton (16-4) came out on top at Northport High School on February 19, outlasting the top-seeded Panthers (16-3), 64-59, to win the Suffolk County Class B Championship. It’s the first county title for the Mariners since 2004. Southampton will face Nassau champ Wheatley (12-7) for the Long Island Class B title on March 4 at Farmingdale State College at 7:30 p.m.
In the win over Babylon, the Mariners did what they had failed to do in two previous losses to the Panthers—play with composure and poise in a back-and-forth final quarter. Mariner senior Shaundell Fishburne (29 points) was the best player on the court and it showed. With the score tied at 58-58 with less than a minute left, Fishburne grabbed a rebound off a Babylon missed free throw and was fouled, sending him to the line with a chance to put his team up by two with 35 seconds left. Fishburne calmly sank both shots, giving the Mariners a lead they would not relinquish.
Babylon cut it to one point on the next possession when Ray Wardell was sent to the line after driving to the hoop, failing to score, and getting the benefit of a late whistle by the referee. He missed the first shot but hit the second, making it 60-59. With 16 seconds left, Babylon sent Southampton guard Nitauke Williams to the line. He made both shots, putting his team up 62-59 with 14 seconds left. On Babylon’s final possession, Mariner Taylor Sanders came up huge, blocking a three-point attempt in the corner. Southampton came up with the ball again and, fittingly, Fishburne went to the line and sealed the win with two more free throws.
After the game, Fishburne spoke about his and his team’s clutch play.
“I just had to get the ball,” he said. “I knew I could make free throws so I knew I had to get the ball in my hands and finish the game off for my team.”
Southampton’s run in the Class B playoffs has been impressive, and indicative of how the team found a way to play its best basketball at the perfect time. The Mariners, seeded third, advanced to the title game by beating second-seed Center Moriches, another team they had lost to twice in the regular season.
Lamison said his team has evolved over the course of the season.
“Babylon is a very, very physical, football-mentality type of team, and they bring that same thing onto the court,” he said. “That’s not a bad thing; that’s part of what their makeup is. But our kids really had to grow into that over the season, and that’s part of the reason why we lost the two games we lost earlier.”
Fishburne echoed those sentiments, saying his team took a better approach than it did in its home loss to the Panthers in the regular season.
“Last time, we weren’t really focused,” he said. “We were worried about getting into a physical fight with them. This game, we just had our composure and poise.”
Lamison said the biggest change for his team was its vast improvement on the defensive end of the floor.
“They don’t say that defense wins championships for nothing,” Lamison said. “You have to defend and you have to rebound, and I thought we did a hell of a job today in both areas.”
Lamison added that the championship was “long overdue” for his team, which has been a contender for several years before finally getting over the hump.
“They had to get roughed up on the playground a bit in order for them to come to the point where we are today,” he said.
And while winning the program’s first county title in a decade would have been satisfying no matter the circumstances, Lamison admitted that beating Babylon was especially sweet.
“We never forgot about that thrashing we took from them last year,” he said. “This really was a satisfying win.”