Layups, putback attempts, chip shots, you name it. They were all makeable shots, and yet, the Riverhead Blue Waves weren’t making them.
For a significant portion of Monday’s first-round girls basketball game in the Suffolk County Class AA Tournament, shots weren’t dropping for the Blue Waves. The ball wasn’t bouncing or rolling Riverhead’s way.
“I was like, ‘Oh God,’ ” said Riverhead guard Shaniece Allen.
In the end, though, Riverhead managed to pull things together and advance beyond the first round of the playoffs for the first time in three years as Allen scored the final seven points in a 52-48 defeat of the visiting William Floyd Colonials.
It was anything but easy.
The sixth-seeded Blue Waves (14-5) had to sweat this one out, overcoming obstacles along the way. For one thing, they started the game hitting only three of their first 14 field-goal attempts. They later saw their top two rebounders, Melodee Riley and Kayla Nazario, foul out. They missed 15 free throws, going 21 for 36 from the foul line. And, they were getting beat on the boards.
It was time for them to be concerned.
“I have to say I was frustrated and nervous,” said Riverhead guard Jalyn Brown.
But Riverhead kept its composure and came through when it counted. While William Floyd coaches tried unsuccessfully to get the officials’ attention to call a timeout, Riverhead’s Mariah Messina stole the ball and passed to Allen, who made a layup, giving the Blue Waves a 49-48 lead with about a minute remaining. Allen, a sophomore, later made a big steal herself and drew a foul with 6.1 seconds left. She made the two resulting free throws for the game’s final points.
Messina made another steal before passing to Allen, in whose hands the ball rested when the final buzzer sounded. That was appropriate. Allen ended up with 18 points, 11 steals, five assists, two rebounds and a block. Brown and Riley added 15 points each in Riverhead’s fifth win in six games.
“This team has been down before and they’ve always come back,” Riverhead Coach Dave Spinella said. “It’s a team that’s never out of it. So, all the credit in the world to them. The kids responded.”
While the Blue Waves missed easy scoring chances, they watched No. 11 William Floyd (9-10) take a 19-8 lead on a conventional three-point play by Dominique Ross 1:15 into the second quarter.
Riverhead managed to whittle that deficit down to six points by halftime. By then it was well clear that this wasn’t the same William Floyd team that had lost a non-league game to Riverhead by 17 points in December. After starting its season 0-6, the Colonials saved their season by winning nine of their next 12 games.
“We’re a different team,” William Floyd Coach Bob O’Driscoll said, illustrating the difference a couple of months can make.
One of the players making a difference was Monique Walker. The senior forward struck for 18 points and eight rebounds in her final high school game.
Both sides had foul issues. Melissa Outsen of William Floyd fouled out with 1:31 left in the third quarter. She was later joined on the bench by another William Floyd starter, Ross, who picked up her fifth personal foul with 1:36 to go.
William Floyd was whistled for 28 fouls and Riverhead had 16 called against its side.
Riverhead saw two of its starters foul out as well. Nazario and Riley both made their exits within seven seconds of each other in the fourth quarter. The Blue Waves played the final 5:01 with them both sitting on the bench.
“It was a shock,” Brown said. “We were like, ‘Who’s going to rebound for us?’ ”
Two reserve players, Marta Czaplak and Messina, came to the rescue, helping Riverhead in its time of need.
“We didn’t want the season to be over,” said Allen.
The next stage for Riverhead will not be an easy one. The Blue Waves will play at No. 3 Sachem East (15-2), the defending state champion and League I title-holder, in the second round on Thursday.
“It’s exposure for our team,” Brown said. “Now let’s just go out to Sachem East and show them what we have.”