SUFFOLK CLASS AA FINAL | BLUE WAVES 60, EAGLES 52
When it was over, Riverhead players raced into each other’s arms as cameras flashed and the crowd cheered. Much more than a season’s worth of work had been on the line. This was more like a five-year plan coming to fruition. Everything had been geared toward Tuesday’s game. That heightened the pressure and the sense of urgency.
Special girls basketball teams like Riverhead don’t come along often, so when they do, they want to leave their mark. That is what the Blue Waves did on Tuesday. With a rare opportunity to snatch the second Suffolk County championship in team history, Riverhead did just that.
The Blue Waves captured the Suffolk Class AA Tournament title by doing something that no other team had been able to do this season: defeat Hauppauge.
Behind 24 points and an inspired effort by Shanice Allen, who dropped in her 1,000th career point along the way, third-seeded Riverhead shot down No. 4 Hauppauge, 60-52. The only other county title Riverhead won was a Class B crown in 1984.
After the final second ticked off the clock at Farmingdale State College, Riverhead senior guard Jalyn Brown ran over to her coach, Dave Spinella, and jumped into his arms. “I just started busting out crying because this is my dream, to win a county championship,” she said.
Riverhead will play Class B champion Southampton on Friday for the overall county championship. Southampton upset Class A champion John Glenn Wednesday, 46-40, for the small school title. It was John Glenn that handed Riverhead its only loss in the season opener. The Blue Waves have won 21 straight since then.
More importantly, Riverhead has a date in the Southeast Region final on March 9 against the Nassau County champion, which has not been determined. A win in that game would send Riverhead to the New York State final four in Troy.
“It’s the happiest day,” Allen said. “This was what we had to win. We knew we had to come out, go hard or go home.”
Brown said, “We wanted to make history today, and we did.”
This has been a season of milestones for Riverhead: Spinella’s 100th career win; Brown’s 1,000th career point in Riverhead’s first playoff game; and now Allen’s 1,000th career point.
Allen needed 20 points to become the fourth Riverhead girl to reach the 1,000-point mark. The junior shooting guard reached that point with a free throw with 3 minutes 23 seconds left in the game. It wasn’t until a short while later, however, that the achievement was noted with an announcement by the public-address announcer, drawing a smile from Allen and hugs from her teammates.
“I wasn’t really expecting that,” she said. “I knew I was close.”
Allen was a big factor in the game. She scored her first 13 points during a pivotal 18-4 run that lifted Riverhead to a 29-18 lead early in the third quarter.
Allen showed coolness under fire, sinking 13 of 16 free throws.
“She doesn’t feel too much pressure at all,” Spinella said. “That’s the mentality she has. … There are games that she takes over and says, ‘We’re not going to lose today.’ ”
Suffocating defense held Hauppauge (21-1) to a season-low 18 points in the first half. Hauppauge never led after the first quarter, falling behind by as many as 13 points on two occasions in the fourth quarter.
Hauppauge, a dangerous team that knocked off No. 1 Sachem East in the semifinals, has a penchant for the 3-point shot, with sharpshooters like Julie Williams and Lauren Descalzo. But Riverhead alertly kept close to the Eagles on the perimeter and held them to 0-for-2 shooting from beyond the arc in the first half. Hauppauge, which went 4 of 13 on 3-point attempts, didn’t hit its first 3-pointer until early in the third quarter when Lindsay Alfano knocked one down. Not long after that, Descalzo hit a trey, making it a 4-point game at 33-29.
“We had to get out to the arc and make them drivers instead of shooters,” said Allen.
Meanwhile, Riverhead hit 51.4 percent of its field-goal attempts, going 18 of 35. The Blue Waves made 21 of 27 free throws.
Riverhead suffered a scare with 3:55 to go in the third quarter. While charging toward the basket, Brown lost control, fell on her back and smacked her head against the floor. She laid motionless on the court, face down for a couple of minutes.
“I sort of blacked out a little bit,” she said.
Brown rose up and walked slowly to the bench, where a concussion test was administered. Then, 2:09 later, Brown re-entered the game to applause from the Riverhead fans.
Later, with 4:57 left in the game, Allen was the victim of a hard foul by Kasey Kephart that sent her to the floor where she writhed in pain before rising and walking off. Riverhead called a timeout and Allen remained in the game, going to the free-throw line to take her foul shots.
Hauppauge kept tight reins on Melodee Riley, who had scored a career-high 28 points against Lindenhurst in Riverhead’s semifinal. But Riley still ended up with 18 points (15 in the second half) and 8 rebounds.
Brown had 11 points and 5 assists. Kaila-Riane Nazario pulled down 10 rebounds for Riverhead.
Descalzo scored 17 points, Alfano added 13 points and 5 assists, and Stephanie Peragallo had 12 points and 8 rebounds for Hauppauge, which was seeking its second county title.
It had been 61 days since Riverhead last played a game decided by single digits. In Riverhead’s previous 20 wins, its average margin of victory was 24.3 points.
Regardless of the margin of victory, Riverhead is a county champion. That is something the Blue Waves have been waiting a long time to say.
“It’s amazing, awesome,” Riley said. “It had to be us, right?”