The Malverne boys’ basketball team has once again reached the pinnacle of Nassau Class B.
DeAndre Blagrove scored a team-high 18 points and Jayden Seraphin and Michael Warren combined for eight points during a crucial fourth quarter run as the Mules captured their second Class B county title in three years with a 77-59 victory over top-seeded Academy Charter at Farmingdale State last Friday night.
Malverne (15-6), which lost last year’s title game to Cold Spring Harbor, will first face East Rockaway in the Nassau BC title game at Wheatley High School on March 2 before its encounter with Center Moriches (20-1) in the Long Island Class B title game in a state subregional matchup at Centereach on March 10.
“Ever since last year, I just knew the hard work and dedication that was needed to come back here and win, especially with this being a whole new team,” Seraphin said. “We had to rebuild and it worked.”
Center Moriches is the three-time defending Long Island B champions, including a 73-60 victory over the Mules which gave them the 2018 plaque.
Malverne used its speed and aggressive play on defense and the boards to take a seemingly comfortable 38-23 lead over Academy Charter at halftime. But Academy (12-4) showed its mettle by scoring the first six points of the third quarter before moving within 52-48 with about 15 seconds left when Wesley Hall converted a short jumper near the left post.
But Seraphin came through in the clutch on the Mules’ final possession of the quarter, catching a loose ball after an initial shot from a teammate fell short and converting the put back just before the buzzer to restore the six-point lead.
“DeAndre was killing it inside,” said Seraphin.
Malverne went on to collect the first 10 points of the fourth quarter, with Seraphin and Warren drilling two field goals apiece, as the Mules outscored the Panthers 23-11 over the final eight minutes to seal the school’s 22nd county title. Warren finished with 15 points on the night and Seraphin added 14. Blagrove pulled down 13 rebounds.
“We gained off each other’s energy,” Blagrove said. “Our momentum got up [and] we stuck together as a team. We pulled together and came out victorious.”
It was not surprising to see the game come down to the final few minutes after the teams split two hard-fought contests during the regular season. Academy escaped with a 65-63 win on Jan. 7 before Malverne responded on its home court 67-55 less than a month later.
Malverne almost didn’t make it to the title game after narrowly beating Wheatley 47-44 three days earlier in the semifinals. The Mules trailed by seven with just over three minutes to play before exploding for another 10-0 run to stun the Wildcats. “It was ugly,” Malverne associate coach Walter Aksionoff said. “We had a lucky win.”
Warren started the rally with 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to cut the deficit to 44-43 with just under two minutes left. The defense forced Wheatley to turn the ball over on its next two trips, with Seraphin converted the front end of two one-and-one situations, the latter with 49.1 seconds left that gave the Mules a 45-44 lead. James Ackies hit two more free throws with 10.9 seconds left to cap the scoring.