ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead sophomore Sam Dunn scored a team-high 19 points in Tuesday’s loss to West Islip.
LIONS 52, BLUE WAVES 47
Growing pains were to be expected. But they still hurt. And none more than Tuesday night.
For 28 minutes, the Riverhead girls basketball team showed glimpses of why the future looks so bright. A team that resembles more a junior high team with three eighth graders in the starting lineup, the Blue Waves used their speed and size to gradually build an 11-point lead when sophomore Dezarae Brown sank a pair of free throws with 6:32 left against West Islip.
It was the first double-digit lead for Riverhead all game. And just as it looked as if the Blue Waves were about to put away the Lions, it all came crumbling apart.
The Lions, behind a full-court press that the Blue Waves couldn’t shake, rattled off a 17-1 run over the final 5 minutes for a stunning come-from-behind victory, 52-47, at Riverhead High School. It was the fourth straight loss for the Blue Waves, who dropped to 1-6 in League III and 3-7 overall.
Afterward, a dejected Riverhead coach, Dave Spinella, shouldered the blame.
“That’s on me,” he said. “I got to get these kids to finish the game.”
It was the third straight game the Blue Waves lost after holding a fourth-quarter lead, Spinella said. The Blue Waves lost yesterday to Smithtown East by five points. On Saturday, they lost to Smithtown West by three points.
“I’d rather get blown out by 20 every game,” Spinella said. “Because it just means we’re that close. When we’re that close, regardless of our age, when you’re in a game that close, it’s on me as their coach to get them through the rest of it.”
The Blue Waves have been a perennial playoff team under Spinella the past decade. But barring a huge turnaround the second half of the league season, the Blue Waves’ streak of recent playoff appearances will come to an end. Riverhead will need to go 6-1 over its final seven league games to finish with a record that qualifies for the postseason.
For now, the Blue Waves are simply trying to find a way to pull out one of these close games.
“These kids are playing excellent basketball,” Spinella said. “They’re doing everything we ask.”
West Islip senior guard Lindsay Darrell ignited the turnaround for the Lions. She scored nine of her game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter. An all-league player last season, Darrell drained a 3-pointer with 5 minutes left that started the run.
West Islip (7-4, 4-3 League III) forced seven Riverhead turnovers in the quarter, which allowed the Lions to get some easy hoops. Sarah Feminella, Vanessa Constantino and Darrell each scored baskets over a 27-second stretch that got the Lions back within two points at 46-44 with 3:33 left.
Darrell tied the game with a driving layup with 2:40 left. Riverhead briefly regained the lead on a free throw from eighth-grader Faith Johnson-DeSilvia, but Darrell answered right back with another strong drive to the hoop, eluding Riverhead defenders all the way to the basket for a layup.
Riverhead went the final 6:55 without a field goal and shot 1-for-12 in the fourth quarter.
“It’s all about effort,” West Islip coach Chris Scharf said. “The effort wasn’t there in the beginning and it was there in the end, fortunately.”
A longtime coach at West Islip, Scharf said he has faced plenty of young teams over the years. But he noted one difference.
“It’s something to be young, but to be young and talented, which they are, it’s a good thing,” he said.
As if the loss didn’t hurt enough for Riverhead, with 1:45 left in the game, senior Kyra Miller went down hard on a drive to the basket. She remained on the court for several minutes and had to be helped off the court and into the trainer’s room. She didn’t put any pressure on her left leg with an apparent knee injury. The extent of the injury was unclear.
Spinella said he was hoping it was just a twist. Miller is a standout track and field athlete in the spring season.
Miller was the only player to come off the bench for Riverhead until the final minute. She first came into the game midway through the third quarter.
Spinella said the rotations haven’t always been as short and he’s typically looked to sub more in the first half.
“I thought our first group was playing really well,” he said. “Maybe that’s part of it. Just trying to find the right mix. No one does enough wrong to warrant being taken out of the game.”
Sophomore Sam Dunn led the Blue Waves in scoring with 19 points. She was the only player in double figures. Brown added nine and eighth grader Kate McCarney scored eight. She hit two 3-pointers.
Riverhead returns to action Thursday at home against Smithtown West.