One play told Dave Spinella all he needed to know. It was five years ago when the coach saw Sam Dunn dive into the bleachers during a summer league game as an eighth grader.
“That’s when I knew that’s the kid that I want,” the Riverhead High School girls basketball coach said. “She’s got a motor that just doesn’t stop.”
And it hasn’t stopped since. Dunn, who signed a national letter of intent in December to play for LIU Post, is still diving for loose balls, battling under the boards and wrestling for rebounds.
That sort of play can take a toll on a player. It did in Thursday night’s game against Centereach. With 55.3 seconds left in the third quarter, Dunn left the court during an injury timeout, holding the back of her neck with a pained look on her face. She followed the trainer into the trainer’s room.
But Dunn wasn’t done for the night. The the 5-foot-10 senior forward emerged from the trainer’s room and returned to the game with 5:12 left to play. She stayed in the game for another 2:45 before being pulled for the night and receiving appreciative applause from fans. Dunn immediately headed back to the trainer’s room.
Asked afterward if she was worried about Dunn’s health, teammate Dezarae Brown replied, “I’m always worried about that girl.”
“It’s just been a long season,” Dunn explained to reporters after her team’s 74-32 romp. “My legs are killing me. I was dying walking up the stairs today, but I’m shot. It’s an emotional night as it is.”
Emotions ran high because it was Senior Night, the final regular-season home game for Riverhead’s two seniors, Brown and Dunn.
“This is a night I dreaded for a long time, just because this is everything to me, so it’s hard,” said Dunn, choking with emotion. “It’s coming to the end.”
Well, at least not for a little while longer. The Blue Waves (14-3, 12-1 Suffolk County League III), who entered the game in a first-place tie with Huntington, are closing in on what would be their first league championship since 2012. A win over West Islip on Monday would assure that.
Before Thursday’s game, Spinella, microphone in hand, praised his two seniors, saying, “They are a special part of Riverhead basketball, and their legacy will not be forgotten.”
The seniors were then presented with flowers and hugged assistant coaches Paul Bertram and Jim Janecek.
Brown said she also dreaded this day, but “I knew it was coming. I like being the center of attention, so it was nice, but it was emotional.”
Those emotions didn’t seem to hinder the Blue Waves, as they brushed off Centereach (9-8, 7-6) for their 13th win in their last 14 games.
Dunn’s trademark, her hustle, stood out. After missing a jump shot from the corner, she raced to the other side of the basket to retrieve her own rebound and score. During one memorable sequence, she plucked three straight offensive rebounds off the glass before making a putback. On another occasion, showing she has style to go with strength, she made a nifty reverse layup. And what Riverhead game would be complete without Dunn chasing after a ball and running into the stands?
“There’s always going to be someone faster than you,” said Dunn, who had 21 points and 13 rebounds (she shot 10 of 15 from the field). “There’s always going to be someone stronger than you. There’s always going to be someone who shoots better than you. But my thing is I’m never going to have someone work harder than me because if I don’t work my hardest, I’ll be upset at myself when it’s over.”
It was a sophomore, Faith Johnson-DeSilvia, who took the occasion to showcase her talents, stepping into passing lanes and stealing passes with her quick hands. She found teammates with precision passes. The point guard finished with 14 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and 1 blocked shot.
“She is amazing,” said Brown, who had six points and 12 rebounds when she fouled out with 5:12 left.
Mary Reiter brought Riverhead 10 points.
Riverhead outrebounded Centereach, 54-30, and held the Cougars to 19.1-percent shooting. The final score would have been even more one-sided had Riverhead not shot 7 of 25 from the foul line. Spinella called it “the worst free-throw shooting performance we ever had.”
As Dunn sees it, Riverhead’s greatest strength is its sense of family.
“We all love each other so much,” she said. “I would do anything for any one of these girls. God I love them so much. I think that love and heart is stronger than any skill or talent that we have.”
Photo caption: Faith Johnson-DeSilvia, who had 14 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and 1 blocked shot for Riverhead, resorted to aerial acrobatics in an attempt to shoot while being guarded by Centereach’s Lauren Meigel. (Credit: Garret Meade)