The matchup was an intriguing one: Hampton Bays’ Alexis Fotopoulos and Shoreham-Wading River’s Courtney Clasen.
The two central figures in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League girls basketball small schools final had never played against each other before. They both came up big at different times, and in their own ways, in Wednesday evening’s showdown at Eastport/South Manor High School.
In the end, it was Clasen, the senior, and her teammates who ended up with the prize, though not before blowing a 16-point lead and enduring a scare from Fotopoulos and her friends in purple.
Despite shooting 3 for 17 from the field in the second half, the Wildcats somehow clawed their way back for a 40-38 triumph thanks to a pair of free throws by Clasen with 2.4 seconds to go.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” said Alex Hutchins, Shoreham’s senior guard.
After a first half in which so much went right for the Wildcats, Fotopoulos could be seen curiously smiling as she headed toward the bench at halftime with her side down by 15 points. Perhaps the junior knew something others didn’t.
About six seconds into the second half, the Wildcats threw the ball away. “It was a bad sign,” said Shoreham’s coach, Adam Lievre.
Things got worse from there for them as Hampton Bays went on a furious assault, pulling itself back in the game. Fotopoulos showed her quality, dropping in 17 second-half points to give her 27 for the game. She also had 8 rebounds, 6 steals and 2 assists.
The two standouts expended a good deal of energy guarding each other, but stopping Fotopoulos is a tough assignment. She scored 8 points during a 14-0 run while the Wildcats struggled, shooting 0 for 9.
“We just couldn’t find the basket,” said Lievre, whose team went 10-2 this summer, one of those losses coming by forfeit.
Clasen said: “In the first half I felt pretty good, but then we went into the drought and I started getting a little worried because we couldn’t hit a shot. And then their crowd was loud so I was feeling the momentum pushing toward them.”
Mackenzie Zajac ended that scoreless spell for the Wildcats with a free throw. Shortly after, a three-point play by Maria Smith put Shoreham up, 35-30.
The lead didn’t last long.
Fotopoulos went back to work, with three successive baskets, two banked off the glass, including one 3-pointer from deep range, about 8 feet beyond the arc.
“She just went on fire,” said Clasen.
During a timeout with 1:18 remaining, and his team trailing by 2 points, Lievre told his players, “Look, now we’re in deep trouble.”
A Clasen free throw and a coast-to-coast layup by Clasen restored Shoreham’s lead at 38-37 in the final minute.
Hannah Reed made one of two foul shots to tie it at 38-38 with 7.5 seconds left.
But then Fotopoulos was whistled for a pushing foul on Clasen, who went to the foul line and coolly drained both shots.
“Ice in the veins, that’s all I can say,” Clasen said. “I just knew I had to hit them. I had no other option.”
For the second summer in a row, the Wildcats defeated the Baymen in the small schools final, and for the second year in a row, Clasen was awarded the league’s most valuable player plaque. She finished the game with 18 points, 13 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 assists and 2 blocks (both on Fotopoulos).
Lievre called Clasen’s contributions “typical.”
The major difference from last year’s final was Hampton Bays didn’t have Fotopoulos for that game, and she obviously is someone to be accounted for.
In the end, though, it was Clasen and the Wildcats who could breathe a sigh of relief.