Once it took the court, this defense never rested.
Shoreham-Wading River’s clamp-down defense was continually in the face of Westhampton Beach shooters. If the Wildcats weren’t stealing the ball or forcing some other sort of turnover, they were wearing down the Hurricanes. The final result was somewhat unexpected: a 39-38 SWR upset in the Suffolk County League V girls basketball game in its own gym Friday.
“That was pretty big,” SWR senior guard Michele Corona said afterward.
Indeed it was.
The game could have been seen as a benchmark for how far SWR has progressed. “I don’t think we’re the same team we were in the beginning of the year,” said Corona.
It was the fifth straight win for the Wildcats (6-7, 6-5), who need to win three of their final seven regular-season games to get into the playoffs. That seems more likely now than it did early in the season when the young Wildcats were trying to figure things out.
“Definitely the best one of the year,” SWR coach Adam Lievre said after the victory. “Things are starting to click.”
Particularly that defense. Lievre called it the team’s best defensive performance to date.
SWR led virtually the entire game, trailing only at 6-4 and 17-15 in the first half. But that didn’t mean Westhampton (10-4, 9-3) just faded away. Quite the contrary. The Hurricanes pulled to within a single point when a pair of Molly Skorobohaty free throws cut the SWR lead to a paper-thin 32-31 with two minutes, 47 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
SWR didn’t sweat it out, though. Eighth-grader Grace Ann Leonard hit a three-point shot from the right wing, Abby Korzekwinski sank three free throws and Corona downed one down the stretch to secure the win.
Westhampton, which has lost three straight and was without its second-leading scorer, Layla Mendoza (13.2 points per game, knee injury), pulled to within 37-34 on a three-pointer by Caroline Henke. Then the Hurricanes lost their top scoring threat, Isabelle Smith, who fouled out with 48.4 seconds remaining. Smith, who had ranked fifth in the county with 21.5 points per game, according to Newsday, finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists and a steal.
With 26.7 seconds to go, Henke hit two foul shots, making it 38-36. After Corona missed two free throws, Westhampton missed a shot and SWR’s Melissa Marchese came down with a vital defensive rebound. SWR immediately called timeout.
Westhampton fouled Korzekwinski, who split two free throws for a 39-36 separation with 10. 1 seconds to go. Westhampton rushed the ball up the court and missed a three-point attempt as well as a two-point try before Olivia Rongo converted a putback in the dying moments.
“Any team can beat any team on any given day,” said Corona, who had 11 points. “I don’t think we were nervous.”
SWR apparently learned well from its 60-47 loss at Westhampton on Dec. 14. In that game, Lievre recalled, Westhampton shot 51 percent from the floor and Mendoza struck for 29 points. “We didn’t play very good defense,” he said. “It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.”
This time, however, defense wasn’t a problem. The Wildcats were in the faces of the Hurricanes, contesting just about every shot. Perhaps the only exception was an easy layup off the glass by Smith late in the third quarter.
This time Westhampton shot 27.7 percent from the field.
“The scheme worked and the girls executed,” said Lievre.
Lievre said SWR has used a variety of defensive looks, depending on the situation and the opponent. “We’ve played man, we’ve played zone,” he said. “We’ve pressed, we’ve not pressed.”
SWR, led by Korzekwinski’s 14 points and 10 rebounds, had scoring issues of its own. The Wildcats shot 25 percent from the field. On top of that, they were outrebounded, 40-29. (Lindsay Rongo came down with 12 rebounds for Westhampton and Skorobohaty had 11).
That’s where the defense saved them. SWR forced 21 turnovers while committing only nine themselves.
Asked what won the game for SWR, Korzekwinski answered, “Heart.”
The verdict is in: SWR’s defense is a winner.