A season after celebrating just a pair of victories and bringing up the rear in Nassau Conference AA-I, Freeport has punched its ticket to the Nassau Class AA boys’ basketball playoffs with three games to spare.
Darren Fergus hit a crucial three-pointer with 1:01 remaining and Talique Jackson sank two free throws with 7.7 seconds left as the Red Devils held off visiting Oceanside, 59-56, on Jan. 29 in the second back-and-forth battle between the rivals in less than a month. Seniors Jackson (19), Fergus (16) and Jayden Bumpass (14) all scored in double figures for Freeport, which upped its record to 6-3 in AA-I and 10-6 overall. The Sailors (4-4; 6-9) got a game-high 21 points from junior Ralph Amitrano along with 13 from senior Brian Pod.
“It feels great to be going to the playoffs, especially after everything we went through last season,” Freeport head coach Larry Steimer said. “We’re still not starting games as well as we’d like and it’s become an all-too-common theme, so that’s one thing I hope we can fix before the playoffs. We also want to finish strong and get the highest seed we can.”
If the Red Devils capture one of their last three, they’ll finish no worse than third in the conference and likely earn the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. The setback left Oceanside needing at least a split of its last four to get into the postseason.
“We’re evenly matched teams and I’ve got to give Freeport a lot of credit,” Oceanside head coach Joe Supple said. “They took an early punch and regrouped in the second quarter and came right back at us. Then we started the second half strong and they came back again.”
Senior Cesario Cesar, who had 22 points in the Sailors’ 61-59 overtime loss to Freeport on Jan. 3, got Oceanside’s engine cranked in the rematch with two highlight-reel dunks. He exploded to the rim both times for one-handed slams that resonated throughout the gym, the second of which gave the visitors their biggest lead of the night — 19-9 — late in the opening quarter.
The Red Devils responded in the second quarter to pull even at halftime, however, Oceanside scored the first eight points of the third quarter, including a pair of dazzling driving layups by Amitrano, to lead 36-28 before Freeport enjoyed a dominant 10-minute run.
Jackson had eight points, and Fergus and Bumpass six apiece during a game-altering 23-6 spurt capped by a short banker from junior Terrance Edmond. When the smoke cleared, the hosts led 51-42 with 3:09 remaining.
“We had two exciting games against these guys,” Steimer said. “Both could’ve gone either way.”
Pod, with a couple of treys, and two more aggressive moves down the lane by Amitrano brought Oceanside within 54-52 before Fergus stuck a long trey from the top of the key. The Sailors had one possession to pull even inside of 20 seconds but couldn’t find the bottom of the net.
“I’m proud of the way we’re fighting,” Supple said. “We just need to be a little more consistent.”