CLASS AA STATE SEMIFINALS | PATRIOTS 67, BLUE WAVES 49
One by one the Riverhead Blue Waves walked out of the locker room for the final time, each player’s eyes filled with tears.
It wasn’t a loss that brought out such emotion, but the finality of it all.
For five months the Blue Waves spent nearly every day together. In that time they blossomed into the greatest girls basketball team in school history, running off an unprecedented 23-game winning streak, winning a Long Island Championship and captivating the community that so passionately supported them.
“We played as a family all year,” said Riverhead senior Jalyn Brown. “I’m not mad we lost, I’m just upset that I’m not going to be with this team anymore. Everybody’s going their separate ways. We’re going to see each other on and off, but it’s not going to be like this.”
The end came after a 67-49 loss to 24-0 Penfield (Section V) Friday night in the Class AA state semifinals at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. The Blue Waves’ season ended as it began -— with a loss.
But what a ride it was in between.
“I’m just speechless about this year,” Brown said.
The Blue Waves (23-2) never led against the Patriots, who dominated inside on the offensive end while forcing Riverhead into shooting jumpers on the other end. The Blue Waves trailed by four after the first quarter before the Patriots opened up the lead with a 10-0 run to start the second quarter. Penfield led by as many as 24 in the fourth quarter.
With 1:33 left in the game Riverhead coach Dave Spinella emptied the bench, allowing the starters to soak in one last roar from the Blue Waves’ faithful, who made the nearly four-hour commute.
As the final seconds ticked away, the chest-painted Blue Crew chanted “Blueee Wavessss!”
The only fans not cheering were crying.
“The support we had, it grew out of nowhere,” said Riverhead senior Melodee Riley. “Parents were always there, but everybody else coming out of nowhere. It’s an amazing feeling. To have support like that is just awesome.”
“They supported us the whole way, through thick and thin,” Spinella said. “A lot of it’s been through thick, but when times got hard they were always behind us right to the end, even after it was over.”
With a starting lineup that featured three players who stood at least 5-foot-10 and two more at 5-7, the Patriots’ size and quickness proved too much for the Waves to handle. Sophomore forward Margot Hetzke scored a game-high 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting for the Patriots.
Penfield finished the game with a blistering 62 percent shooting percentage, thanks in large part to the Patriots’ ability to get so many easy looks under the basket. The Patriots took only two shots outside the paint in the first half.
If the Blue Waves had an Achilles’ heel this year, it was against teams with size who could play a strong zone defense.
Penfield fit that mold to a tee.
Brown and junior Shanice Allen couldn’t penetrate into the lane as much as they normally do and the Blue Waves couldn’t secure as many offensive rebounds when shots missed.
“They got a lot of second shots,” Spinella said. “We were one and done. We didn’t start burying shots until it was too late.”
The Blue Waves shot 33 percent from the field and were only 5 of 23 from beyond the arc. Junior Kaila-Riane Nazario hit three of them and she finished with 13 points.
Riley led the team with 18 points and seven rebounds. Brown was the only other player in double figures with 11.
Allen struggled with foul trouble throughout the game and never got going. She finished 1 of 7 from the field for two points. She fouled out midway through the fourth quarter.
Penfield limited Riverhead to 18 first-half points, the lowest total for the Blue Waves since the first game of the season against John Glenn.
“They protect the paint,” Spinella said. “They really pack it in and in the first half we couldn’t shoot the ball.”
In the locker room afterward, the Blue Waves kept to tradition, speaking a few words about each senior.
For many of the players, that’s when it really hit.
For everything they accomplished this year, the amazing journey had reached the end.
“Playing with this team, this family, I love them all,” Riley said. “For it to end this way, it’s a little sad. But we lost nothing. We’re Long Island champions. We’re going to go home with our heads held high.”
They’ll raise a banner inside Riverhead High School soon enough, one that will stand alone, forever a reminder of the greatest girls basketball team the school has seen.