SUFFOLK CLASS AA QUARTERFINAL | FLAMING ARROWS 63, BLUE WAVES 38
Riverhead was under no misconception. The seventh-seeded Blue Waves knew they were facing a tall order, trying to upset No. 2 Sachem East in Wednesday’s Suffolk County Class AA girls basketball quarterfinal.
Even so, perhaps Riverhead couldn’t have imagined its challenge being as difficult as it was.
The most telling numbers of the game might have been these: With its reserves in the game, Sachem East put up a measly 2 points in the fourth quarter — and still won by 25!
A 25-10 third-quarter blast sent Sachem East on the way to a 63-38 trouncing of the visiting Blue Waves and its seventh straight county final four. The Flaming Arrows (16-1), who also ousted Riverhead from the playoffs in 2010, will play Bellport or Walt Whitman in a county semifinal on Saturday at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue.
“I expected a better fight, honestly, I did,” said Riverhead coach Dave Spinella.
But Sachem East, the League I champion, brought too much for Riverhead to handle. Two juniors, Katie Doherty and Kathleen Everson, spearheaded the offense for the Flaming Arrows. Doherty led all scorers with 21 points to go with 6 assists while Everson put up 16 points and 10 rebounds. Emily Carmel chipped in 11 points with the aid of three 3-pointers, and Sammy Drake grabbed 10 rebounds to go with 8 points.
Doherty scored her first 6 points within the opening 3 minutes 22 seconds as Sachem East, like a basketball tsunami, flew out to a 10-0 lead. Riverhead (12-8) committed 8 of its 19 turnovers in the first quarter, which ended with Sachem East holding a 17-11 lead.
Then, Sachem East distanced itself further from Riverhead in the second quarter. While Riverhead struggled with 1-for-9 shooting from the field in the quarter, Sachem East closed out the first half on a 14-2 run for a 37-15 halftime cushion.
Another 14-2 run by Sachem East in the third quarter made the score 53-20. The rest of the game was little more than a formality.
“They execute so well,” Spinella said. “They’re big and they can move, and they can all shoot. It just makes it a tough situation. We didn’t play very well, but that’s a tribute to their defense. Our youth kind of got exposed.”
Asked what the decisive factor in the game was, Doherty replied: “I think it was really our energy. We came out really hard. Everybody was going for loose balls and rebounds, and I think that motivated us to win.”
Second-chance scoring opportunities didn’t hurt, either. Sachem East hustled for 16 offensive rebounds. The Flaming Arrows outrebounded the visitors, 43-32.
“In spots of the game, they played as well as we can play,” Sachem East coach Matt Brisson told reporters.
Asked if he was surprised by how well his team performed, Brisson answered, “They never surprise me.”
The game marked the end of the Shanice Allen era for Riverhead. With the senior’s five-year varsity career concluding, a poignant scene developed late in the game. After sinking a pair of free throws for her 13th and 14 points of the contest, Riverhead’s all-time leading scorer with over 1,400 points, was pulled from the game. When Allen, who is headed for Pace University, arrived near the bench, she received a hug from Spinella, and then more hugs from teammates.
Brisson had some words for Allen after the game while the teams exchanged handshakes. “I said, ‘What a legacy you leave behind,’ ” Brisson said. “She should be so proud of herself for what she accomplished in her time over there.”
Sachem East is looking to accomplish a lot with a team that has the talent to win a second county crown in three years.
Brisson was the head coach of Sachem for two years before the school split into two schools, Sachem East and Sachem North. He could just as easily be the Sachem North coach now, but he chose Sachem East.
“Every now and then I think to myself, ‘Which way should I have gone?’ ” Brisson said. “My momma raised no fool. I came the right way.”
Brisson credited his players for the team’s success. “Katie Doherty walks into the gym and Kathleen Everson walks into the gym, and all of a sudden I’m a pretty good coach,” he said.
What are Sachem East’s expectations?
“We want to win,” Doherty said. “We want to win as much as we can, and we’re going to go for it.”
Riverhead, which had lost 10 players from the team that reached the New York State final four last year, couldn’t feel too bad about its season.
In addition to Allen, Riverhead will lose Denise Brunskill, Naysha Trent and Jocelin Zaneski to graduation. The bulk of the team will be back next season, though, including two freshmen starters, Dezarae Brown and Sam Dunn. One can envision enhanced roles for Kim Ligon, Destiny McElroy and Kyra Braunskill.
“We lost 10 kids from last year, and we were one game from the [county] final four, so what can you say?” Spinella said. “This whole year has been a tremendous success. Our youth got so much extra time, extra games and so much more experience. Extra games and extra practices, all of that adds up in the long run.”