The age-old question asks if a basketball player would rather be a starter on a bad team or a reserve on a good team. The answer, Saturday, rested in Bobby Akeson's hands.
Although many of the reserves on South Side's deep bench could be starters on a lesser team, the county championship plaque Akeson clutched proved more valuable than minutes or numbers.
Akeson scored 10 of the Cyclones' 26 bench points as No. 2 South Side beat No. 4 Jericho, 64-51, to win the Nassau Class A championship at Mack Sports Complex at Hofstra.
"I knew what I had to do," Akeson said. "I tried to contribute as much as I could down low. I realized how big this game was to us. We were striving for this all year and to be a part of it feels great."
After South Side made just one field goal in the second quarter, Kevin Coyle and Ryan Spadaford each hit a three to open the third. Akeson later added a jumper from the foul line to give South Side a 33-23 lead with 2:25 remaining in the quarter. Fellow reserve Gerald Mitchell, who had eight points, added a three-point play in transition and Akeson followed with a corner three to take a 16-point lead just before the buzzer.
The lead swelled to 47-26 early in the fourth after threes by Dane Flaherty and Mitchell. From there, the countdown to South Side's first county championship since 2004 was on.
"We were doing a good job being aggressive and attacking them," South Side coach Jerry D'Angelo said. "Sooner or later, we were going to get to the basket or hit our shots."
Which, thanks to some sparks off the bench, is exactly what happened in the 18-7 third quarter.
Spadaford finished with 13 points and five rebounds and Darren Nickelson had nine points and nine rebounds. Though the senior duo may have led South Side to the county championship game, they credited those who play behind them for helping them capture it Saturday.
"Guys came off the bench ready to shine," Nickelson said. "That's what kept us in the game . . . I've been waiting three years for this. This is the best thing that could happen to me in basketball."
Jericho (15-6), one of only two teams to defeat South Side this season, was led by junior forward Garrett Johnson, who finished with 21 points and averaged 25 points in four postseason games.
Johnson hit his first two three-point attempts early in the first but the defensive rotations by South Side, which kept Jericho scoreless for the final 2:23 of the second quarter and the opening 4:15 of the third quarter, allowed few uncontested shots.
"They played great defense and took us out of our sets," Johnson said. "I guess it's a plus making it all the way here but it's a hard way to go out. Hopefully, we can make it back here next year."
Corey Miller scored all nine of his points in the fourth quarter and David Orr finished with seven points.
South Side (19-2) advances to play Suffolk champion Harborfields for the Long Island championship, and a berth in the state semifinal, at 5 p.m. Saturday at Hofstra.
"I'm happy for the program, happy for the team, happy for all the seniors that work hard every day," Spadaford said. "You dream about winning this game."