And now, let the real games begin.
Non-league games are the preliminary act for high school girls basketball teams. The real season, some might say, begins with the start of the league schedule. All the more reason for the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs to feel better about themselves.
The Monarchs took care of a couple of things on Monday night. Not only did they start their Suffolk County League VIII season off on the right foot, but they gained a measure of revenge at the same time.
In what Jacki Paton called the best league opener the Monarchs have played in her 12 years as the team’s coach, McGann-Mercy scored a 43-35 defeat of the visiting Southold Clippers. McGann-Mercy, which is 2-3 overall, gave up only four points in the third quarter and used a 14-6 run to forge a 37-26 lead with 5 minutes 16 seconds left to play. Southold (1-6, 0-2) never came closer than within five points of McGann-Mercy after that.
“It was a beautiful start,” Paton said. “It was everything that we wanted. We wanted patience, we wanted control, we wanted to set the tempo, which we did.”
There was so much for the Monarchs to feel good about, and the fact that the win came against the same team that ousted them in the Suffolk Class C semifinals last season might have made them feel even better.
“I think it says a lot,” McGann-Mercy senior forward Amy Boden said. “Everyone’s got their heads up high now. Now we got the confidence.”
Boden led eight McGann-Mercy scorers with 12 points and Anna Crowley chipped in with seven. Eight of Boden’s points came during a 15-2 spurt that gave McGann-Mercy a 19-10 lead 1:52 into the second quarter. Boden fouled out with 3:42 left in the game.
“Amy had 12 points, but she was very unselfish,” Paton said. “She knew when she was triple-teamed she was kicking out to the [open] people to give them great looks. That’s awesome team basketball.”
Although Southold held a 38-27 advantage in rebounds, it was neutralized by McGann-Mercy’s hounding defense, which limited the Clippers to 28.2-percent shooting from the field. “I thought from the beginning we played our hearts out,” said Boden. During one stretch that covered the entire third quarter and lasted until about midway through the fourth, Southold shot 1 for 14 from the field.
Third-quarter droughts have developed into a disturbing pattern for Southold.
“That’s been our problem all year, the third quarter,” Southold Coach Dennis Reilly said. “I wish we didn’t have to stop for halftime. We really, really have trouble in that third quarter, and if you look at my scorebook, you’ll see it — four points, two points, five points — and that puts us in a hole.”
Southold trailed by one point at the half, 21-20, and was perhaps a bit fortunate to be down by only six points after three quarters.
“We fall sometimes, we make mistakes, but we’re still trying to work things out,” Southold’s sophomore forward, Melissa Rogers, said. “We just need to focus more on keeping the third quarter alive. We usually fall apart then, and that’s where we kind of lose our thing, and then we come alive again in the fourth quarter. But we need to keep it strong all four quarters.”
A telling statistic could be found in the assists. Sixteen of McGann-Mercy’s 17 field goals were assisted, eight by Brieanne Bieber. The Monarchs were also quick to dive to the floor for loose balls.
Paton said her team’s chemistry has come a long way. “That’s what’s going to make us or break us this year,” she said.
Southold received nine points from Rogers. Rogers also grabbed 11 rebounds, as did Nicole Busso. Sydney Campbell, arguably Southold’s greatest scoring threat, was held to seven points.
No one has to tell Reilly that the stakes are higher with league games. League games have a direct impact on the playoffs.
“They just mean more,” he said. “You’re trying to make the playoffs, and every win counts toward trying to make the playoffs.”
Someone who asked Paton, after Monday’s game, what her team’s overall record was, received an interesting reply.
“My league record is 1 and 0,” the coach said. “That’s the only thing that counted. Everything else was a prep for today. Nothing else matters.”