WILDCATS 59, KNIGHTS 48 (2 OT)
Meghan King said she had never been at the free-throw line before, in a situation such as the one she faced Thursday, with not only a game on the line, but a league championship as well.
But there she was, having been fouled with her Shoreham-Wading River girls basketball team trailing Elwood/John Glenn by 2 points with 12.3 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. Talk about pressure.
King said she was telling herself at the time to approach it like she was at practice, focusing on the shots, not the scoreboard, and forgetting about the surroundings, the crowd and everything else.
And yet, it was still there. In the back of her mind, she said, an inner voice was reminding her of the significance of the free throws. That inner voice, King said, reminded her, “‘You know, you got to make these so we will win.”
After King hit the first free throw, Elwood/John Glenn coach Andrew Athanas called timeout, perhaps hoping to ice the senior.
No such luck.
King converted the second one as well as four more in overtime. In one of the most thrilling games in the team’s recent history, Shoreham-Wading River toppled visiting Elwood/John Glenn, 59-48, in double overtime to finish the regular season in a tie for first place in Suffolk County League VI with the Knights. It is the Wildcats’ first league title since 2002.
“It was well worth the wait,” said Shoreham-Wading River coach Dennis Haughney.
Elwood/John Glenn, the defending Long Island Class A champion, is a league champion for the 10th time in 12 years.
The drama of Thursday’s game, which was pushed forward a day from the original schedule because of an expected snowstorm, left Haughney searching for words. “That was the most exciting game I’ve ever been involved with,” he said. “Unbelievable. I’m speechless, to be honest with you.”
A big difference between the two teams, which pushed each other to the limit, was King’s clutch free throws. It was nothing fancy, nothing spectacular, just basic free-throw shooting that paved the way for the Wildcats’ big win.
King was a driving force for the Wildcats, collecting 19 points and 18 rebounds, both game-high figures. But it was her free-throw shooting that proved critical. King, who shot 9 for 12 from the foul line, sank her last six attempts.
Asked about her skill as a foul shooter, King said: “I’ve had my ups and downs, but the past couple of weeks I’ve been staying after practice, just shooting, shooting and shooting it. I didn’t want to have the game in my hands and then lose it.”
Haughney said, statistically speaking, he was not sure if King is the team’s best foul shooter, but “she’s a streaky kid, and when she gets going, she’s the best.”
Shoreham-Wading River (14-4, 11-1) had a chance to win the contest in regulation time. With 2.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Courtney Clasen inbounded the ball to Sabrina Santiago, who was just across the mid-court line. Santiago dribbled between two defenders and pushed an air ball that fell well short of its target. The score remained 37-37.
The Wildcats had waited 11 years for a league championship, so what was another eight minutes? It was time for overtime.
King netted a pair of free throws with 11.5 seconds remaining in the first overtime period to put Shoreham-Wading River ahead, 44-42. Moments later, though, Elwood/John Glenn’s Monika Sivilli and Mackenzie Sivilli made passes to set up Lexie Koenke’s 15-foot jump shot, evening the score at 44-44. After a Shoreham-Wading River traveling violation with one second left in the first overtime, Mackenzie Sivilli received an inbounds pass from Emma Klis and hoisted a desperate attempt off the back rim at the buzzer.
On to the second overtime.
Shoreham-Wading River seized momentum and scored the first 8 points of the second four-minute overtime period to build a 52-44 lead. King, Taylor Whiffen and Keri Clark contributed points during that spurt.
The game was something of a battle of attrition, too, with three players fouling out. Shoreham-Wading River’s Shannon Rosati picked up all five of her personal fouls in the second half. Then, in the second overtime session, Klis and Alexis Groark fouled out for Elwood/John Glenn (16-2, 11-1), which shot 1 for 7 from the field in the second overtime.
ESPN would have classified the game as an “Instant Classic.”
When the end came, a tired Clasen was relieved. “I was like, ‘Thank God,’ ” she said. “After all those overtimes, I was wondering when it was going to end.”
Shoreham-Wading River, which won for the sixth straight time since an 18-point loss to Elwood/John Glenn on Jan. 15, received a double-double from Clasen, who had 13 points, 12 rebounds, 6 steals, 5 assists and 1 block. Rosati scored 10 points.
Elwood/John Glenn, which saw its winning streak snapped at nine games, received 18 points from Monika Sivilli. Mackenzie Sivilli supplied 12 points.
After the game, the Knights were clearly upset at having failed to win the league title outright and having to share the crown.
“They obviously wanted it very badly,” Athanas said of his players. “It meant a lot to us.”
For King, the lesson of the day was a simple one that youngsters might want to listen to: Practice your foul shots.
“They come in handy,” she said.