ISLIP TERRACE — With the playoffs around the corner, Riverhead Blue Waves Coach Dave Spinella has concerns about his girls basketball team peaking too early.
The Blue Waves have won five consecutive games and eight of nine. Their most recent victory came via a 54-37 decision over East Islip in a Suffolk County League III encounter last Thursday.
“We’re certainly not playing our best basketball yet, that’s for sure,” Spinella said. “We’re going to continue to work hard every day until we do.
“Hopefully, you time it right that they really start to peak when they go into the playoffs. It’s always the team that’s hottest going in. Hopefully, we’ll be there. We definitely have much room for improvement. We’re playing very well, but as a coach you’ve got to find what we’re not doing well and fix it.”
Despite playing without center Kaila Nazario, sidelined due to an allergic reaction to medication, guard Shaniece Allen led the Blue Waves (8-3, 6-1) with 17 points. Melodee Riley added 15 points and 15 rebounds and point guard Jalyn Brown connected for all of her 14 points in the first half and dished out eight assists.
Spinella was most impressed with the defense. “We’re holding teams under 40 every night,” he said. “What else can you ask for? You’re going to have to score 50 to beat us and teams are not doing that.”
The game followed a familiar script as Riverhead struggled out of the starting gate. They were sloppy, mistake-prone and rushed their shots as the Redmen (3-6, 3-4) grabbed a 7-3 lead.
“We have to get out of that slow start because it might cost us a game in the long run,” Allen said. “We have to pick it up from the get-go like we come out in the second half.”
Brown agreed. “We had a big talk in the locker room about selfish play,” she said. “Our coach was really upset about that. We have to work as a family. … If we don’t make a family now we can’t make it to the finals or final four of the playoffs.”
The game turned after Spinella was assessed a technical foul for disputing a referee’s call. Amanda Borbee (eight points) sank both attempts to give the hosts a four-point advantage with 2 minutes 12 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Brown felt the technical inspired the Blue Waves. “We get so motivated because sometimes he doesn’t deserve a technical,” she said. “He backs us up.”
Spinella wasn’t as convinced.
“I don’t think that had that much to do with it,” he said. “We just started playing harder. We woke up and realized we had scored seven points in the quarter. We’re averaging 60-something points a game and here we are with seven points in a quarter. The thing about this team is that they know when they’re not playing well. They know when they have to step their game up.”
Brown took things into her own hands, scoring eight successive points to transform that deficit into an 11-7 lead that Riverhead never relinquished with 6:47 remaining in the second quarter.
“She went on a run,” Allen said. “She’s a good player. She knows what to do with the ball.”
Allen gave Riverhead a scare with 33.9 seconds left when she tripped over a player and hit her head on the floor. “Had to put ice on it, but I’m fine now,” she said. “It was just my head.”
Allen came out possessed in the second half, scoring the first eight points to turn a 25-16 halftime lead into a 33-16 bulge. “She came back in like nothing happened,” Brown said.
While Riley dominated the boards, she was only 3 for 16 from the foul line.
“If she hit half, she would be looking at a 25-point night,” Spinella said. “But she does her job. She gets the rebounds and puts the ball back up. You take the good with the bad.”
Sinking foul shots consistently has been a concern. Against East Islip, Riverhead put away only 9 of 28 attempts.
“It’s mostly foul shots that slowed us up,” Brown said. “Foul shots have been a big factor. Either we have close wins or large wins. It’s always foul shots that come down to the wire.”