If anything, the Riverhead High School girls basketball team’s 74-71 victory over Copiague in the Claude Byer Tournament Monday night was a reminder of how quickly momentum can change the game.
Trailing 44-43, the Blue Waves rattled off nine consecutive points in the final 57.8 seconds of the third quarter to tip the balance in their favor at Amityville High School.
They did, however, almost allow a 14-point advantage to go down the drain in the fourth quarter before surviving a wild, nail-biting finish.
Riverhead (7-3) will meet Amityville, a 35-31 winner over Bellport in the opening game of the doubleheader, in the tournament final Jan. 27 at 2 p.m.
If that confrontation is half as intense as the Blue Waves’ triumph, it will be worth the price of admission.
“It was crazy,” Riverhead head coach Kenny Coard said. “Every time we thought we had it, all of a sudden they came back. They fought admirably. I’ve got to give them credit. They played really hard and they have some talent. Our girls decided to step up, play with a lot of heart and made the plays when they needed to make them.”
Riverhead had many heroes. Kate McCarney, who had scored 14 points by the opening minute of the second quarter, led the way with 25 points. Faith Johnson-DeSilvia contributed 22 and Kim Ligon tallied 12 of her 15 points in the second half. Regan Montefusco came off the bench to score four of her five points in the final period.
“I think today we showed people that Riverhead is a force to be reckoned with,” Ligon said. “I think a lot of people doubted us coming into this game and we fought to the end. I don’t think people expected us to last with a team like that, but we did. We definitely proved ourselves and showed we have a lot of heart.”
On several occasions.
The Blue Waves enjoyed a seven-point lead early in the third quarter, but saw that disappear as the Eagles went on a 12-4 spurt to grab a 44-43 edge.
But Riverhead regained its composure and the lead by connecting on a 9-0 tear over the final 57.8 seconds of the period to take the lead for good. McCarney, a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line, started it with two free throws. Ligon added five points, including a trey to close out the quarter for a 52-44 lead.
“We started playing better defensively,” McCarney said. “That kind of brought our energy and it carried over to the offense.”
Johnson-DeSilvia said, “That was the best defense we have played in the last two games combined.”
The Blue Waves extended their lead to a seemingly safe 66-52 with 4:40 remaining in the period before the Eagles (7-3) made them sweat down the stretch. Copiague’s Tayanee Peay scored 12 of her 18 points in the final quarter.
Foul shooting helped decide matters.
McCarney canned three free throws after she was fouled on trey attempt with 58.4 seconds remaining in the game to give the Blue Waves a 71-64 lead.
“I know I hadn’t missed a foul shot the whole game, so I knew it was going to go in,” she said. “I had that confidence and was able to make them.”
After Copiague came within 73-71 with 16.4 seconds remaining on Faith McCombs’ two foul shots, Johnson-DeSilvia made one of two freebies with 5.6 seconds remaining. (McCombs had 12 points.)
“That was huge,” McCarney said. “We got a little nervous when she missed the first one, knew she was going to make the second one because that was the type of player she is.”
Emilyae Ward (14 points) then missed on her three-point attempt at the buzzer.
Lanyah Ford paced the Eagles with 19 points.
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Faith Johnson-DeSilvia goes airborne for a shot. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)