CLASS AA FIRST ROUND | BLUE WAVES 61, THUNDERBIRDS 36
Shanice Allen drew the loudest roar of the night inside Riverhead High School with a ferocious block along the baseline against Half Hollow Hills East freshman Mesha Rivers late in the third quarter Thursday.
That is, until Naysha Trent got the ball a few minutes later.
Trent, a Riverhead senior, dribbled along the left sideline when she whipped two consecutive ankle-breaking crossovers, juking multiple defenders as she drove baseline and converted a difficult shot off the glass plus a foul. The crowd erupted, as did her teammates.
“I screamed and chanted as if I scored,” Allen said. “It was nice to watch.”
“It just happens,” Trent said in breaking down the play.
Trent’s three-point play was the highlight of the game — if not the year so far — in a 61-36 victory over the 10th seeded Thunderbirds in the first round of the Class AA playoffs. The win sends the seventh-seeded Blue Waves into the quarterfinals Wednesday against No. 2 Sachem East, 61-31 winners Thursday over No. 18 Brentwood.
The defending county champions never left Thursday’s game in doubt as the Blue Waves (12-7) raced out to a 20-2 lead, fueled nearly entirely by the dynamic duo of Allen and Trent, who combined for 42 points.
The two seniors carried the offensive load, scoring the first 17 points of the game for Riverhead. Allen finished with 22 and Trent added 20.
“For some of these seniors it was the last time they’ll ever play on this court, so they went out and gave it everything they had,” said Riverhead coach David Spinella. “I’m really proud of our team.”
It was the third time this season, and second straight game, that both players hit for 20 or more points.
For Trent, it was her first signature moment in a playoff win. She missed all of last season with an injury and had to watch from the bench during Riverhead’s wild ride to Troy and the state semifinals.
“It means a lot,” she said. “It’s my last year. I just feel like I should go all out and do my best.”
Trent’s overcome a myriad of injuries in her career and even Thursday was briefly hobbled after falling on her knee awkwardly in the first quarter. She came out of the game for a quick rest before heading back onto the court.
“I kind of ignored it,” she said. “It’s always something.”
Spinella said he’s proud of the way Trent has persevered.
“She’s just such a hard-working kid,” he said. “And she fought through a lot of stuff. To see her out there doing what she’s doing, I’m so proud of her.”
Trent and Allen were nearly unstoppable early in the game. Trent hit a pair of early 3-pointers and Allen was electric in transition getting to the hoop for buckets. Trent outscored the Thunderbirds by herself, 15-14, in the first half.
The Blue Waves’ defense was superb throughout closing out on the Thunderbird’s shooters. Hills East came into the game averaging 5.3 three’s per game. In their last eight games the Thundbirds had connected on at least six per game.
The Blue Waves limited them to four three’s, two of which came in the fourth quarter with the game already in hand for Riverhead.
“We played fantastic defense,” Spinella said. “We were blocking out, we were rebounding. Every time they caught the ball we were right on them. We were forcing extra passes.”
When the Thunderbirds (11-7) did get a shot, they couldn’t buy a bucket. They misfired on 11 straight shots to start the game and shot 3-for-30 (10 percent) in the first half.
The Blue Waves played man-to-man defense and were aggressive in switching on picks to not allow a shooter to get free.
The Thunderbirds were without leading scorer Ashley Walker, who’s normally the only senior in the starting lineup. She was out with the flu, Spinella said. Walker averaged 12.1 points per game for Hills East this season.
Junior Julia Gneiser, who averages 11.5 points per game, scored 13 to lead the Thunderbirds.
While Allen and Trent carried the offensive load, the Blue Waves got some key contributions from a number of other players. Juniors Kyra Braunskill and Destiny McElroy provided a spark off the bench. Senior Jocelin Zaneski hit a pair of 3-pointers and freshman Sam Dunn was big on the boards.
“Kyra was after every loose ball,” Spinella said. “Any ball on the floor she went and got it. And Destiny’s doing a nice job now. She’s rebounding and playing defense.”
While the Blue Waves have continued to get better this season as a young core gels with the seniors, they entered the playoffs on a two-game losing streak. Spinella said they hadn’t lost three in a row since 2004.
“We knew that at home we wanted to get out here and hold court,” he said.
And now they’ll take to the road, where an old nemesis awaits. Sachem East knocked the Blue Waves out of the playoffs most recently in 2011.
“We’ll try to pull the sword from the stone and get after them,” Spinella said. “There just always out there, looming.”