WILDCATS 35, PANTHERS 33
Leave it to a sophomore to steal the thunder from her older teammates on Senior Night at Shoreham-Wading River High School.
Not that any of Mackenzie Zajac’s teammates or those in attendance were complaining. Zajac sank a 3-point shot — her only basket of the Suffolk County League VI game — with only 1 minute 22 seconds remaining in regulation to help the Wildcats to a 35-33 victory over Miller Place on Friday night.
Zajac’s basket transformed a 33-31 deficit into a 34-31 advantage for the Wildcats (8-6, 7-4), who led for only the third time in the game and for the first time since midway through the first quarter. Zajac finished with 4 points.
The win avenged a 44-39 loss at Miller Place (9-7, 6-4) on Jan. 8.
For most of this encounter, it appeared the result was going to duplicate itself. The Panthers managed to keep about a 5-point lead for most of the game and enjoyed a 6-point advantage after senior guard Christine Patterson’s layup gave the visitors a 32-26 lead with 6:11 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Patterson, who scored 17 of her game-high 21 points in the first half, did not score the rest of the way as the Wildcats slowly, but surely clawed their way back into the game. Seniors Caitlin Mirabell and Jessica McCormack each had baskets down the stretch and senior Courtney Clasen sank two vital free throws down the stretch, including one of two with 4.8 seconds remaining.
Miller Place rebounded Clasen’s missed attempt, but a last-second shot from 3-point range was off the mark.
Clasen struggled from the field, sinking only 2 of 10 tries, and from the foul line as well (2 of 10). But it was her all-around performance that helped Shoreham keep within striking distance. While there were no accurate final statistics, the senior finished with around 10 rebounds and several assists.
After allowing 26 points in the opening half, Shoreham closed ranks on defense, surrendering but 10 points in the second half, 5 in each quarter.
Senior Alex Hutchins led the Wildcats with 9 points, all in the first half, and senior Hailey Tilton contributed a vital bucket in the final period.
Shoreham has one more regular-season game left — at Bayport-Blue Point on Tuesday before the Suffolk County Class A Tournament is scheduled to begin on Feb. 18.