West Hempstead rallies for Class B championship


West Hempstead was slow out of the gate in last Friday’s Nassau Class B boys’ basketball finals playing its first game in three weeks before turning on the jets when it mattered most.

The top-seeded Rams trailed Carle Place by nine midway through the second quarter, but then quickly began to take control of the game by scoring 28 of the next 36 points en route to a 54-45 win for the program’s first county championship since 2003.

“We practiced hard every day and we wanted this,” said West Hempstead senior forward Anthony Graffeo-Jackson moments after his teams’ county title triumph at Farmingdale State College. “This has been my dream for a while.” 

The Rams hadn’t taken the court for a game since a 66-50 win against East Rockaway in the regular-season finale on Feb. 8 after Oyster Bay forfeited the Class B semifinal game scheduled for Feb. 23. The rust factor appeared to take hold early with Carle Place jumping out to a 20-13 lead following a steal and layup from Carle Place forward Nick Monteforte prompting Rubin to call a timeout with 4:32 left in the first half. 

After Carle Place extended the lead to 22-13, West Hempstead closed the quarter on an 8-2 run to trail 24-21 at halftime. The momentum carried over into the second half when the Rams opened the third quarter with a 14-4 spurt and led 41-32 at the close of the period. 

“I thought we were lucky to be down only three at halftime since we didn't have a very good first half., but I'm really proud of the kids for their resiliency,” West Hempstead head coach Eric Rubin said. “I’m happy, but for the kids I’m even happier because this program was so down for a few years and they worked hard and have done everything I've asked them to.”

West Hempstead (18-4) brought home the title in the fourth quarter when senior guard Chris Young drilled a clutch three pointer followed by an Isiah Blunt basket to extend the lead to 47-34 with just under five minutes left. The Frogs never crept closer than six for the remainder of the game. 

The Class B champions received balanced scoring led by 13 points each from Young, Blunt, Graffeo-Jackson and Evan Wilson. Wilson connected on four three pointers while Blunt and Graffeo-Jackson were a force inside with some key rebounds throughout the game. 

The county finals triumph marks quite the turnaround for West Hempstead, which two years ago went 1-17 before improving to 7-12 last season. After a 69-49 loss at Cold Spring Harbor on Jan. 4, the Rams lost only one more game in the regular season and won seven games by 10 points or more. 

“We haven’t been down in too many games this year and weren’t too familiar with that spot,” Rubin said. “We really came out strong in the third quarter and played hard, played smart and played confident so I’m really proud.”