Star senior Tavon Sledge scored a Long Island championship game record 46 points to lead the Hills West boys basketball team to the Class AA title Sunday afternoon in a double overtime victory against Elmont.
With their 79-75 win, the Colts now advance to the state semifinals to play Mt. Vernon on Saturday at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
"I'm so emotionally drained right now," Hills West coach Bill Mitaritonna said after the game. "I'm very proud of my team, and I'm proud of Elmont. They gave us an incredible challenge today."
While the Colts won the game in the end, this proved to be their toughest challenge yet. Elmont had a significant height advantage over Hills West, with two players at 6-foot-7.
Hills West's tallest player, Emile Blackman at 6-foot-4, had his work cut out for him. Sledge at 5-foot-8, also had to make extra use of his impressive jumping ability during the game.
Both teams played evenly in the first half. Hills West went to the Iowa State-bound Sledge on the offensive end, and Elmont scored most of their points in the paint. The score was tied at the end of both the first and second quarters: 17-17 in the first, and going into halftime at 31-31.
In the third quarter, Hills West's Chris Cox had the first dunk of the game on a fast break, putting Hills West ahead 40-39. Anthony Rollino made a key steal, but HS West couldn't convert on the play. They went into the fourth quarter, 45-43.
The majority of the fourth quarter was a slugfest. With 2:41 left to go, Sledge hit a vital 3-point shot, tying the game 56-56. Now at the 38 second mark, Hills West lost the ball out of bounds, but Rollino stole it back, and with a driving layup, he put Hills up 62-60.
The tension and anticipation for the game's conclusion was through the roof. Both teams on opposite sides of the court made the stadium erupt with their cheering and stomping.
With only five seconds left, Elmont was fouled. They went to the foul line, but missed both shots. As the ball fell down the court, both teams dove in for posession, but Elmont recovered and scored inside the paint. With the game tied 62-62, they went into overtime.
In the first overtime, Sledge drove to the basket for 2 points, made a FG from the foul line, and took the lead 66-64 with 2 minutes left to go. Elmont then came back with a 3-point shot, taking the lead 67-66. They continued their lead, and with only seconds remaining, the score stood at 69-66.
Elmont was also holding Sledge back from his dangerous shots in the paint. However, with 10 seconds to go, he bypassed their defense with a game-saving bucket from downtown, tying the game again 69-69. Colts fans went wild, and into double overtime they went.
Sledge and Blackman teamed up as the crowd-pleasing duo that they are, taking their team to the top by driving to the basket and making key foul shots. Elmont stuck around though, as the game was still tied with 1:27 left.
Now with 30 seconds to go, Hills West's Chris Kaimis was fouled. Going to the line, he made both foul shots, and put Hills West up 77-75. Hills West was finally able to breathe again, and with additional foul shots made by Sledge and Blackman, they closed the game at 79-75.
"I did what I had to do to win this game," said Sledge, whose 46 points was also a career-high. "I wasn't surprised at all that Elmont gave us the huge challenge that they did. This was the most incredible game that I have been a part of."
Blackman scored 11 points, and Rollino and Kaimis each chipped in 7 points for Hills West.
After the game, the team posed for pictures with their Class AA Championship plaque and an emotional coach Mitaritonna shared his thoughts: "When we walked on the court today, we were ready. Sledge kept saying to me in overtime: 'I'm not going to lose this game.' We refuse to lose, and I love everyone on this team."