After winning 11 of 12 games to capture the Conference A-III title, Hewlett earned the No. 3 seed in the Nassau Class A boys’ basketball playoffs and faced a difficult first-round test last Friday with No. 14 Wantagh operating at full strength.
The Bulldogs failed to protect a five-point lead they carried into the fourth quarter, but senior Weldon Irvine’s long three-pointer with 2:05 remaining provided the game’s ninth and final lead change in a 70-61 victory in front of a large home crowd. Irvine scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter. Juniors Avery Feldman (game-high 24 points, eight rebounds) and Bryan Eckerle (16 points, five rebounds) were the catalysts for Hewlett (13-5), which advanced to face No. 11 Valley Stream South in the quarterfinals.
“We’re good under pressure,” Bulldogs coach Bill Dubin said. “We’ve had close games, and we won all but one. Earlier in the week we were down 18 at Great Neck North and came back to win by one.
“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” he added. “We had different kids step up throughout the game.”
Hewlett entered the playoffs riding a seven-game winning streak, while the Warriors (10-9) closed the regular season with two straight victories after welcoming guard Gerard Roche back to the lineup following a lengthy injury. Roche had 14 points, but none in the fourth quarter. Eric Regenbogen scored nine of his 17 in the fourth to pace Wantagh, which trailed by as many as seven in the second half.
“I think our experience was a factor,” Dubin explained. “Everyone in our starting lineup played in the semifinals against South Side last season.”
The Bulldogs led 51-46 after three quarters, but the fourth saw several lead changes. Regenbogen’s trey with less than four minutes remaining vaulted the Warriors in front, 56-55, and Brendan Devine (13 points) followed with a put-back to give them their biggest lead. But Hewlett would score 15 of the last 18 points, with junior Dimitri Baptiste (13 points) providing the final six.
“Dimitri does everything at a fast pace,” Dubin said. “He gives us energy, and tonight he helped us close the game out.”
Feldman and Eckerle carried Hewlett’s offense in the first half, combining for all but five of its points as the hosts held a 28-25 lead at intermission.
Feldman, who had nine points in the half, gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the night — 12-11 — when he opened the second quarter by swishing a baseline jumper. Eckerle, who had 14 points at halftime, then caught fire with his first of five field goals on six attempts in the quarter.