Riverhead’s steep, uphill climb in search of a spot in the high school girls basketball playoffs just became steeper.
As painful as that realization is for the Blue Waves, their heartbreaking loss to Half Hollow Hills East on Friday was especially stinging.
Despite playing a sharp first half and leading for most of the game, Riverhead lost its shooting touch and the chance for what would have been an impressive upset. A three-pointer by Jessie Maurer gave Hills East the lead for good and ignited a game-ending 9-4 run for the Thunderbirds, who emerged as 54-50 winners at Riverhead High School.
Riverhead coach Dave Spinella, who had told his players before the season that he would step down following his 14th season in charge of the team, said afterward, “That was about as tough a loss as I’ve ever taken.”
The defeat leaves Riverhead (5-8, 2-6 Suffolk County League II) needing to win five of its remaining six games in order to see the postseason. No easy task.
Hills East (8-6, 6-2), which lost to Riverhead in the first round of last year’s playoffs, rallied late. Jessica Womble knocked down a triple with 4 minutes, 58 seconds left in the game, giving Hills East its first lead, 45-44, since McKayla Jones’ game-opening layup.
Moments later, Riverhead responded with a layup by Mary Reiter before Maurer’s trey restored Hills East’s lead. The score was tied twice more at 48-48 and 50-50 before Hills East went in front for the final time through a give-and-go in which Womble passed to an open Alexa Wallace for a layup with 16.3 seconds remaining.
After inbounding, Riverhead lost the ball on an unforced turnover. The Blue Waves were then forced to foul, sending Womble to the foul line, where she canned a pair of free throws with 5.7 seconds left to ice it.
Riverhead, which shot 14 for 29 in the first half, cooled down to 5 for 22 in the second.
Wallace, a junior guard, had a tremendous game with 15 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block. She shot 4 for 13 from the field. Womble also scored 15, going 5 for 11 from the field and 4 for 4 from the foul line.
Kate McCarney (4 for 5 on field-goal attempts) led Riverhead with 12 points, all from three-pointers. Kristina Dunn and Reiter added nine points each. Faith Johnson-DeSilvia provided eight points and six assists.
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Faith Johnson-DeSilvia passes off while being pressured by Half Hollow Hills East’s Sophia Tawil. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)