This defense didn’t rest — not until Bishop McGann-Mercy became a county champion.
Mercy’s girls basketball team won its first Suffolk County championship since 2004 Monday, and the Monarchs can thank their defense and a tremendous performance from Melina Santacroce for it.
Mercy held Stony Brook to only 11 points through the first 20 minutes and rolled to a 51-28 victory in the Suffolk Class C final at Suffolk County Community College in Selden.
“It’s probably the greatest feeling of my life,” Mercy senior Caryn Nabrizny said. “From the start, I was kind of like, ‘We’re going to have to work for this,’ and it paid off in the end.”
Santacroce, a senior forward, was 4 years old the last time Mercy received a county championship plaque. She described this latest title as “absolutely amazing. Right when the final buzzer went off, it was probably the best feeling ever.”
Mercy coach Meaghan Smith was a freshman on that 2003-04 county champion team. “I feel like it’s something that Mercy’s all about, coming full circle,” she said.
Top-seeded Mercy (15-5) had a plan, and it worked to near perfection. That plan was to shut down Stony Brook’s top scoring threat, junior guard Beth Felix. So, Mercy had junior guard Karina Ellis follow Felix all over the floor. And whenever Felix got past Ellis, other Mercy players provided help.
“Karina did a really good job and when she got beat, we were there,” said Santacroce.
Felix, who entered the game averaging 21.1 points per game (ranking her ninth in the county, according to Newsday), was held to 11 points, all in the second half. Felix fouled out with 16.7 seconds left in the game.
“Our biggest thing was to shut down Felix,” Smith said. “I can’t give [Ellis] enough credit. She 100 percent took Felix out of the game.”
Furthermore, Stony Brook shot 24.4 percent (12 of 49) from the field and turned the ball over 26 times.
“Phenomenal,” Santacroce said. “We crashed the boards. We got so many steals. Our transition was awesome.”
Santacroce, meanwhile, turned in a phenomenal game, totaling 21 points, 16 rebounds, six steals, three assists and two blocks. She did not commit a single foul.
“She played great,” Smith said. “She was determined to win this year and do what it took. That was probably the most controlled she has ever played.”
Nabrizny (nine points, eight rebounds, six steals, five assists) said: “I would have to say this was probably the best we ever played defensive-wise. Me and Melina had been talking since the bus ride that we were going to leave everything on the floor.”
A choppy start saw Mercy take charge, taking a 12-6 through the first quarter.
Mercy’s hustle and pesky defense forced No. 3 Stony Brook (9-10) into 19 turnovers in the first half, holding the Bears to 5-for-21 field-goal shooting during that time.
Santacroce was a driving force for Mercy. By halftime she already had 10 points and 13 rebounds. She also drew fouls, as did her teammates. Stony Brook was whistled for 14 first-half fouls and Jessica Nwachukwu headed for the bench after collecting her fourth foul just 1:57 into the second quarter.
Stony Brook had won nine county titles and was seeking its first since 2013.
Mercy advances to the Suffolk Class B-C game Friday at Centereach High School. After that, a regional semifinal against East Rockaway awaits Mercy on March 10 at a site to be announced.
The Monarchs were determined to keep their season alive.
“I was talking with the two seniors, Caryn and Melina, and they’ve been dreaming about this and thinking about a county title since they were freshmen,” Smith said. “… And we’ve had opportunities but we didn’t quite grasp them and take advantage of those opportunities, but we knew that we had to this year. They were not going to let this slip away from them.”
Their defense wouldn’t allow it.
Photo caption: Bishop McGann-Mercy players celebrate the team’s first county championship since 2004. (Credit: Bill Landon)