Sachem East shoots an arrow through Riverhead’s heart

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead's Shaniece Allen faced an obstacle in Sachem East's Samantha Drake during their county quarterfinal.

FARMINGVILLE — Odd as it may sound, the defending New York State Class AA girls basketball champion Sachem East Flaming Arrows have found drawing fans to their home games to be something of a challenge. Then again, there is a reason for it.

“We have a hard time getting people to come watch our games,” Sachem East guard Meagan Doherty explained. “Every time they come we’re winning by 20, so what’s the fun of seeing that?”

Interesting point.

If Sachem East keeps playing the way it has, it could find itself in a position to capture another state crown.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Jalyn Brown was consoled by Riverhead Coach Dave Spinella.

Sachem East’s execution was on Thursday night when it put an end to the Riverhead Blue Waves’ season with a 76-45 quarterfinal victory in front of a decent-sized crowd, although good seats were available.

“I think we played amazing,” Doherty said. “We’re not going to get much better than this.”

The home fans who were there had to like what they saw. Sachem East, which opened in 2004, has a beautiful high school, sitting atop a hill like a castle, a neat gym and a great team. League I champions for the past five years, the Flaming Arrows have a sharp shooting touch, splendid ball movement and the sort of chemistry that doesn’t develop overnight.

“It takes a long time for the cake to bake,” Sachem East Coach Matt Brisson said. “We say it all the time. You put those ingredients in, you set it at 350, and then you got to work.”

That work has paid off for third-seeded Sachem East (16-2). It will play the No. 2 North Babylon Bulldogs in the semifinals on Monday at Farmingdale State College.

Meagan Doherty led five Sachem East scorers in double figures with 23 points against No. 6 Riverhead (14-6). Her sister, Katie Doherty, and Allie Drake added 13 points apiece while Emily Carmel and Kathleen Everson provided 10 points each for Sachem East. Katie Doherty also had 10 assists. Everson and Drake grabbed nine rebounds each.

The Flaming Arrows shot a red-hot 57.4 percent from the floor while Riverhead had a 34-percent accuracy rate. A complete team, Sachem East received 23 points from its bench; Riverhead had none.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | From right, Kayla Nazario, Shaniece Allen and Aly Doscinski watched from the bench as the final minutes of their season ticked down.

“Their shooters are phenomenal,” said guard Shaniece Allen, who was Riverhead’s top scorer with 18 points. “They could shoot, they could drive; they got all-around players.”

If the assist-to-turnover ratio is anything to judge by, look at these numbers for Sachem East: 28 assists, nine turnovers. Not bad.

Sachem East used a 20-3 run to take a 20-8 lead late in the first quarter. The Blue Waves pulled to within five points of Sachem East three times after that at 36-31, 40-35 and 42-37, but the Flaming Arrows then pulled away. Sachem East seemed to make shot after shot, and finished strong by hitting 10 of its final 13 field-goal attempts. The final score was the largest margin of the game.

Not even a 13-point, 10-rebound performance by Riverhead’s Melodee Riley was enough to stop that.

“They shoot better than any team we’ve seen all year,” said Riverhead Coach Dave Spinella, who does not have any seniors on his team. “We just need to be a little more disciplined, defensively and offensively.”

Riverhead faced a disciplined and motivated team in Sachem East, which would like to return to Hudson Valley Community College next month to defend its state crown.

“It helps us 100 percent,” Meagan Doherty said. “People think that it takes our hunger away, but it really didn’t. We will do whatever it takes to get back there and have that feeling again.”

Meagan Doherty, whose older sister, Kristen, is a starter for Boston College, is unquestionably driven. The junior missed the first several games this season and has been playing in pain with a mysterious knee ailment. That didn’t prevent her, however, from finishing the regular season with a team-leading average of 14.9 points per game and 33 three-pointers. As a team, Sachem East totaled 97 threes, the second-most in the county.

With a team that starts two freshmen and two sophomores, Sachem East should be good for a while, too. In the meantime, Meagan Doherty said she can sense another county title on the horizon.

A banner commemorating last season’s state championship has not been hung up yet on the gym wall at Sachem East High School. “We don’t make a big deal out of it,” said Meagan Doherty.

Perhaps management is waiting for a second state title. Maybe that would bring the fans in.

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