One must take the good with the bad with the Next Gen Wildcats. That’s how it is with a young high school girls basketball team such as Shoreham-Wading River.
Both good and bad were on display Tuesday night.
First, the good: The Wildcats didn’t seem intimidated playing against Mount Sinai, an accomplished team that went 22-1 last season and was the Suffolk County Class A runner-up. They battled hard, made life uncomfortable for Mount Sinai and competed to the end.
And, the not-so-good: SWR struggled to put the ball in the basket. The Wildcats were stagnant offensively in the first half, managing only 13 points in the opening 16 minutes. Coach Adam Lievre said SWR’s communication was lacking on both ends of the court. The Wildcats shot 25.9 percent from the field.
The final result: a 51-38 win by visiting Mount Sinai in the League V game.
“We were out to get them,” SWR senior guard Michele Corona said. “We fell a little bit short.”
It was a tough test for SWR, which has only four returning players from last season: Abby Korzekwinski, Hayden Lachenmeyer, Melissa Marchese and Corona. The rest of the Wildcats are all new to the varsity scene.
“We proved that we can play with them,” Lievre said of the Mustangs. “We played with them. We rattled them.”
Mount Sinai (4-0, 3-0) brings a lot to the court, though, not the least of which is Gabby Sartori. The senior guard, a Newsday All-Long Island player last season, scored a game-high 25 points, four below her average. She also had 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block.
SWR (1-4, 1-2) had scoring issues, particularly in the first half when it shot 5-for-26 from the field and found itself in a 28-13 hole. Mount Sinai closed the half with a 14-3 run.
Lievre didn’t like what he was seeing.
“The first half was an issue,” he said. “We had a long talk [at halftime] about some issues that needed to be addressed. We didn’t talk on offense. We didn’t talk on defense … We had no movement on offense.”
Changes were made and were reflected by a more competitive second half. SWR opened the third quarter on an 11-2 run, capped by a Marchese putback that cut Mount Sinai’s lead to 30-24.
Not only that, but SWR twice pulled to within four points of the Mustangs when Korzekwinski drained a 10-footer near the end of the third quarter and when Lachenmeyer made a turnaround bank shot early in the fourth.
“Our heart was there and our intensity,” said Corona, who had eight points.
But, as Mount Sinai often does, it found a way to hold off SWR by scoring nine of the next 11 points for a 45-34 lead with about three minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“It was one of those away-game grinders, offensively,” Mount Sinai assistant coach John Mees said. “…But as we preach: Find a way. That’s our way.”
Mount Sinai coach Jeff Koutsantanou said, “When we play together as a team, great things happen.”
Brooke Cergol struck for 14 points while Mount Sinai also received nine rebounds from Holly McNair and effective defense by Casey Campo.
Marchese led SWR with 13 points and also grabbed eight rebounds. Lachenmeyer, despite playing with an ailing ankle, was a force in the paint with nine rebounds and five points.
Eighth-grade guard Grace Ann Leonard was in the SWR starting lineup for the third straight time. SWR has two other eighth-graders (Sophie Costello and Annie Sheehan), a pair of freshmen (Alexa Constant and Carlie Cutinella) and a sophomore (Destiny Keshner) on the team as well. For them this is on-the-job training.
“I think they’re doing great,” Corona said. “Obviously, it’s hard going from the middle school right to the varsity level, but I think they’re doing well.”
Tough opponents like Mount Sinai have a way of helping players grow up fast, too.
For SWR, this season is about player development for the future as much as wins for the present.
“We would like to win,” Corona said, “but it’s not all about winning.”
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River’s Hayden Lachenmeyer tries to find a way past Mount Sinai’s Gabby Sartori during Tuesday night’s game. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)