Girls Basketball: A league title seems like destiny for Riverhead

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Junior Kaila Nazario drives to the basket against Smithtown East freshman Samantha Delaney in Tuesday's victory.

Only four games into the league season, the prospect of a league title for Riverhead seems less like a dream and more like an inevitability.

The question at this point is can any team in League III give the Blue Waves a game? So far, the answer has been no.

The Blue Waves had little trouble Tuesday afternoon on the road at Smithtown East, taking down the Bulls 63-26 to run their win streak to nine straight games.

In their four league wins, the Blue Waves have won by an average margin of 35.7 points. No team has gotten closer than 28. And of the two teams in league the Blue Waves still haven’t seen, East Islip and Centereach, neither has gotten off to a strong start.

“It’s a matter of coming to play every day,” said Riverhead coach David Spinella. “We got to stay focused and bring our energy and our effort. We got to play every game like it’s a championship game.”

The Blue Waves quickly find themselves in the driver’s seat for their first league title since 2008. It would be only their third since 1993. While the Blue Waves have already taken down defending champion North Babylon by 32 points on the road, Spinella cautioned that in the second half of the league season, things can change.

“Second time around teams get a chance to prepare,” he said. “The second time around is more important than the first.”

Riverhead challenged itself with a difficult non-league schedule and the Blue Waves responded by winning all but one game, the season-opener against John Glenn. While the busy slate of games prepared the team for the league season, the challenge now is keeping sharp with the remaining games so spread out. The Waves, now 9-1 overall, have a full week off after the win against the Bulls. They play only twice over the next 15 days.

The Waves came out sluggish against the Bulls (1-8 overall, 1-2 League III). They led 4-2 midway through the quarter before turning it on after a timeout.

“When we start off slow and sloppy we kind of get a wake up call,” Spinella said. “It’s like a splash of cold water on your face.”

Senior Jalyn Brown scored off a turnover with 3:50 left in the half that sparked Riverhead. By the end of the quarter they led 19-7 and the game was never in jeopardy the rest of the way.

Senior Melodee Riley led the Waves with 12 points and eight rebounds. Brown scored nine and added five steals. Junior Shanice Allen scored 11.

The young Bulls, a team that consists of five sophomore and three freshmen, couldn’t handle the pressure Riverhead delivered. In each of the first two quarters the Bulls had more turnovers than field goal attempts. They finished the first half with 23 turnovers compared to seven for Riverhead.

“They actually handled our zone pressure very well,” Spinella said. “We went to the man pressure and that’s what gave them a hard time.”

The Bulls had a lot of size with four starters who went 5 foot 7, 5-7, 6-0 and 6-1. But the Waves’ athleticism was enough to counter and Riverhead dominated on the offensive boards. Riverhead didn’t shoot well in the first half, but still had 30 more shot attempts thanks to the rebounding work and turnovers.

When the second half started, the Waves found their stroke. They connected on six of their first seven shots, the final one a 3-pointer by junior Jocelin Zaneski. She added another long ball later in the quarter and finished with six points.

When the starters took a seat, the bench players for Riverhead extended the lead.

“When our substitutes sub in, I expect the same as I do from the first group,” Spinella said. “We need them to play at their maximum level too.”

Eleven players for Riverhead ended up in the box score with a field goal, a season high. Riverhead’s bench tallied 22 points, including six from senior Alyssa Meyer.

The Blue Waves held Smithtown without a field goal in the third quarter. Their biggest lead was 40 after a layup by Aly Doscinski midway through the fourth quarter.

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