Before she left her house to head for the game, it occurred to Riverhead senior forward Sam Dunn that this most likely would be the last time she ever wore the Blue Waves’ home white jersey.
Hours later, in the closing seconds of a game that was too close for comfort, it struck Dunn that this could be the last time she wore a Riverhead uniform of any color.
Riverhead is hoping for big things to come out of these high school girls basketball playoffs, and with the talent it has, it has cause for optimism. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Blue Waves were going to coast in their playoff opener against Half Hollow Hills East on Friday.
They got the result they wanted, but the Suffolk County Class AA Tournament first-round game came down to the final possession. After Riverhead’s Kate McCarney missed two free throws, Hills East found itself inbounding the ball deep in its own half of the court with only 1.6 seconds to go. A desperation heave by Jessica Womble from two-thirds the distance of the court wasn’t close, and Riverhead survived as a 64-62 winner.
“Everyone wants the same thing coming into the playoffs: They want to win,” said Dunn, who shot 8 of 13 from the field and turned in 22 points, which is over her team-leading 16.2 average. “Regardless if it’s a good team, a bad team, they’re going to go out there, they’re going to scrap, they’re going to get rebounds, they’re going to do everything they can to win.”
With its sixth straight win, seventh-seeded Riverhead (16-3) earned a place in the quarterfinals. The Blue Waves will play at No. 2 Commack on Wednesday. Commack, the defending Class AA champion, won 57-35 over No. 18 East Islip Friday.
Riverhead and No. 10 Hills East (10-10) had opened the season against each other back on Dec. 3, with Riverhead winning, 52-45.
The rematch was even closer. Riverhead, the League III co-champion, trailed only once at 6-5, but built a lead of as many as 10 points just once.
Riverhead coach Dave Spinella expected a battle. “They are underrated,” he said of the Thunderbirds.
Both sides had their foul troubles. Two Hills East players, Sophia Tawil (10 points) and McKayla Jones, fouled out in the fourth quarter. But Riverhead lost its starting point guard, Faith Johnson-DeSilvia, when she picked up her fifth personal foul with 4:39 left to play and the Blue Waves holding a 59-52 lead.
“You can’t put a price on a point guard,” said Spinella.
With Johnson-DeSilvia on the bench, Kim Ligon and Kate McCarney shared the ballhandling duties, helping steer Riverhead to the victory.
Womble (12 points, eight assists) connected on a three-pointer and a layup to cut Riverhead’s lead to a tenuous 62-60. But Mary Reiter made a 10-footer, restoring Riverhead’s four-point lead. That lasted until a layup by Mesha Rivers (25 points) pulled Hills East to within two again.
“Yeah, it’s nerve-wracking, but you have to stay composed,” said McCarney.
After a jump-ball call gave Hills East possession with 17.1 seconds left, a Rivers shot missed the mark and McCarney came down with the rebound before being fouled and sent to the foul line.
Riverhead made stops when it needed to and controlled the boards, with a 34-16 rebounding advantage.
“We knew going in that rebounding the basketball was going to be a problem for us,” Hills East coach Adam Cirnigliaro said. “We didn’t do a great job of that.”
Dezarae Brown helped Riverhead in that department. She had 12 points and 11 rebounds. McCarney added 11 points and Johnson-DeSilvia had 10.
The relief afterward was palpable for Riverhead.
Said Johnson-DeSilvia, “I’m just happy with the win.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Kate McCarney (11 points) attempts a jump shot while Half Hollow Hills East’s Sophia Tawil puts a hand in front of her face. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)