EAST NORTHPORT — The girls basketball team is at the center of attention these days at Elwood/John Glenn High School, and for good reason. After all, the Knights are undefeated.
Standing in the middle of the spotlight is their 6-foot-1 center, Allison McKenna. Tall in stature, McKenna came up big for the Knights on Saturday when their march toward what would be the team’s third Suffolk County championship continued — at the expense of the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats.
McKenna turned in a tremendous game for top-seeded Elwood/John Glenn as it beat No. 4 Shoreham-Wading River for the third time this season, 48-38, in a Suffolk Class A Tournament quarterfinal that matched up League VI’s top two teams. Despite being double-teamed, McKenna collected 19 points, nine rebounds, nine steals, six blocks and four assists for the Knights, who brought their record to 19-0. They have earned the right to play the No. 2 Harborfields Tornadoes (17-3) in the county final on Tuesday night at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue.
Anyone who suspects that the undefeated record has an impact on the team would be correct.
“It gives us a lot of confidence, but it definitely gives a lot of other people reasons to want to beat us that much more,” said McKenna, a junior who has an outside shooting touch to complement her inside game.
McKenna faced a challenge from Shoreham-Wading River’s 6-0 senior center, Corinne Wiederkehr. Wiederkehr turned in a full day’s work herself, putting up eight points, nine rebounds, three blocks, two assists and one steal. She knew she had her hands full going up against McKenna.
“She definitely made us work,” Wiederkehr said. “She hits all of her free throws, she hits all of her layups, she hits all of her outside shots. It’s kind of hard to play defense on her, knowing that she can shoot anywhere.”
Elwood/John Glenn beat Shoreham-Wading River by 21 and 26 points during the regular season. But this time was different. This time the Wildcats (12-8) gave the league champions a run for their money.
“Staying with them throughout the game was such a great feeling for us,” Wiederkehr said. “Even though we couldn’t pull away with a win, it was good knowing we could play with them.”
Except for a couple of brief spells in the first quarter, the Knights never trailed.
The Wildcats fell behind by as many as 11 points in the second quarter, but then closed the gap. They pulled to within three points of the Knights when a layup by Michelle Gostic made it 36-32 right before the end of the third quarter.
They sliced the margin to two points when Alyssa Fleming grabbed an offensive rebound and, while falling backward, put in an off-balance shot, making the score 40-38.
“They didn’t back down,” Elwood/John Glenn Coach Andrew Athanas said. “Every time we went on a run, they caught up.”
But Elwood/John Glenn responded. McKenna, Monica Eugene and Danielle Evers combined to shoot 8 for 10 from the free-throw line in the final 2 minutes 7 seconds to salt the game away.
Shoreham-Wading River’s comeback attempt wasn’t helped by the fact that three of its players — Cali Lavey, Meghan King and Fleming — fouled out in the final 5:17.
Emma Klis finished with 13 points for the Knights.
Gostic was the top scorer for the Wildcats with 11 points. Lavey added eight points.
McKenna, of course, made a big difference.
“They have a player in the middle who does a lot for them,” Shoreham-Wading River Coach Dennis Haughney said. “She catches the ball, holds it. She breaks the press for them. When she needs a shot, she’ll step back and hit an outside shot. She’ll get an offensive rebound. When you have players like that, it makes it really difficult.”
The Wildcats, who made their fourth appearance in a county semifinal, have never reached a county final, according to Haughney.
The Knights, meanwhile, have been drawing comparisons to their 2004-5 team, which went 29-0, winning the state and federation titles. But Athanas knows that the current team still has a way to go to earn the same accolades as that team.
“They have to win 29 games to be compared,” he said.
Athanas said he knew that he had a good group of players when the season started. He told his players they had the opportunity to do something special. Could he have foreseen being unbeaten at this stage?
“Am I surprised that we’re 19 and 0?” Athanas said. “I suppose, but I’m happy.”