Emotions are a funny thing. One never quite knows for sure how he will handle his feelings in an emotional moment. They are unpredictable.
For much of the way, Dave Spinella controlled his emotions during an emotional night, his last as coach of the Riverhead High School girls basketball team.
During a pregame ceremony in which current and former players paid tribute to him, giving him flowers and hugs, he was in control. During the game, he was fine.
It was immediately after the game when those emotions finally came bubbling through.
Standing at the end of the bench, Spinella was greeted at first by assistant coach Paul Bertram. The two hugged and remained in an embrace while emotions got the better of Spinella.
More tears followed. Some of the players emerged from the postgame team meeting with tears in their eyes.
It’s not easy to say goodbye, especially for a well-loved coach who had been with the team for 14 seasons.
Spinella, 38, had told his players before the start of the season that this would be his final go-around. He said he is stepping down so he can spend more time with his family. Wednesday was his last game, and the Blue Waves gave him some send-off, one final win as a parting gift, along with expressions of their gratitude for his service.
With his wife, Tara, and their three young children in attendance, Spinella watched as his team played exceedingly well from the start and romped, 70-29, over Lindenhurst at Riverhead High School. It was a performance Spinella applauded.
Adding to the drama was the fact that it was also Senior Night. Riverhead’s two seniors, Mary Reiter and the injured Mackenzie Palmer, received flowers and hugs before the game as well.
Spinella built a 161-101 (.615) record, taking the Blue Waves to the New York State Class AA semifinals in 2012. His Riverhead teams won three league championships (in 2008, 2012 and 2016) and made it to the playoffs 10 times, advancing beyond the first round in five of those years.
Spinella, president of the Suffolk County Girls Basketball Coaches Association, has seen 15 of his players move on to play at the collegiate level. He said he is most proud of having had New York State scholar-athlete teams each of the past 13 years.
He must have also been proud of the way Riverhead (7-12, 4-10 League II), which had lost four of its previous five games, played in its final game of the season. For starters, the Blue Waves shot 60 percent (24 for 40) from the field through the first three quarters and 52.8 percent (28 for 53) for the game. They were 8 for 13 from three-point range. Meanwhile, their defense held Lindenhurst (5-15, 1-13) to 17.3-percent shooting.
Reiter led the way with 19 points. Kim Ligon went 5 for 8 from the field for 14 points and had five assists. Also scoring in double figures for Riverhead were Kate McCarney (11 points) and Faith Johnson-DeSilvia (10 points, eight assists, six rebounds, four steals).
Lindenhurst received 12 points from Megan Steinman and 10 from Shay McCandless.
Riverhead ran off 10 straight points on a triple by Reiter, a steal and a layup by Johnson-DeSilvia, a layup by Kristina Dunn and a three-pointer by McCarney for a 10-2 lead and expanded on that lead from there.
Photo caption: Current and former players listened as Riverhead coach Dave Spinella spoke during a pregame ceremony. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)