The Riverhead High School girls basketball coach, Dave Spinella, was right on the mark when he described Sachem East High School as a castle on a hill. And what a castle it is.
Sachem East is one of the most impressive public high schools in Suffolk County. It is relatively new, having opened in 2004. The campus has a rustic appearance. The football team plays on neat-looking field turf. After walking into the school building, one just has to stop and take a look at the attractive trophy case.
The gym itself is nice looking, color coordinated with the red and gold of the Flaming Arrows.
Sachem East also has a girls basketball team that matches the fine surroundings, and what a team it is. The Flaming Arrows are the defending New York State Class AA champions and the reigning five-time League I champions. Led by their sharp-shooting junior guard, Meagan Doherty, they can knock down three-point shots with the best of them and zip passes around accurately and efficiently. They can even throw in a couple of back-door layups.
That is who the Riverhead Blue Waves had to contend with last Thursday night in the county quarterfinals.
By all reports and appearances, the Blue Waves were loose, relaxed and confident before the game. Players sang and danced to music as they went about the process of preparing for their next challenge.
“We were ready to go,” said Riverhead’s talented sophomore guard, Shaniece Allen.
But when the time came for the teams to hit the court and test their mettle, Sachem East’s quality prevailed — by 31 points!
The best way to describe Sachem East is to call it a complete team from top to bottom. The Flaming Arrows play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. They can serve as a team Riverhead ought to strive to be. As good as the Blue Waves are, they still have a way to go. The 76-45 final score in Sachem East’s favor speaks volumes. Riverhead scored 12 points under its average and gave up about 30 points more than it usually surrenders.
“It’s disappointing,” Spinella said. “You got to execute, and they executed better than we did, and they shot much better than we did.”
Indeed, Sachem East was good on 57.4 percent of its field-goal attempts. Riverhead shot 34 percent.
“I think we are just completely taking off right now,” Doherty said. “This is going to be the peak of our season. I can just tell. We’re all in, we want to win, and we want to get to the states again.”
And what about Riverhead?
The Blue Waves do not have a senior among them, so they should all return next season. The team looks well-placed to make a strong run next season. Riverhead has one of the best guard tandems in the county in Allen and junior point guard Jalyn Brown. Allen averaged 14.9 points per game during the regular season and Brown was good for 13.4. Melodee Riley, a junior forward, has quite a vertical leap and plays taller than her 5 feet 7 inches. Kayla Nazario, a sophomore forward who transferred from Virginia, was a find for Riverhead. She has undoubted athletic ability, and if the Blue Waves get more offensive production from her next season, that would help the team a good deal.
What Sachem East had that Riverhead didn’t have last Thursday night was more scoring options.
“I think we just need to become better shooters,” said Allen.
Riverhead could do worse than to try to emulate Sachem East. The Flaming Arrows qualified for their fourth straight county final, and that’s not shabby, especially in Class AA. When a team establishes a record like that, winning becomes expected.
“There comes a point in time where they grow to expect you to do well, and it’s cool,” said Matt Brisson, the only coach Sachem East has had. “It’s called culture, but at the same time there’s so much work that goes into it.”
The affable Brisson has an engaging sense of humor.
“The parents are phenomenal,” he said. “I’m crazy. I have [the players practicing] all hours at night, and no one’s blown up my car yet and I haven’t really had too many death threats.”
Winning has a way of preventing that sort of stuff.