The first half ended and, before heading into the locker room, the Riverhead High School girls basketball players dispersed into the bleachers to present flowers to their parents as a show of appreciation for their support throughout the season. Might the Blue Waves present them with a victory in the form of a huge upset as well?
Not on Tuesday.
The Blue Waves turned in a commendable effort, though, hanging with second-place Copiague for much of the first half. But, as teams like Copiague have a way of doing, the Eagles built on a 10-point halftime lead and flew to a 39-point Suffolk County League II win at Riverhead High School.
“I think we did better than I thought we would, in the beginning at least,” Riverhead guard CeCe Khan said after the 82-43 defeat.
When Riverhead lost to Copiague in their first meeting this season, it was by 34 points and was the start of an eight-game losing streak for the Blue Waves (4-13, 2-11).
“It’s been tough, but this group, it’s a good group of girls because they don’t give up,” Riverhead coach Jackie Zilnicki said. She added, “Losing can take a toll on a team.”
No sign of that was evident in the first quarter. Kristina Dunn scored seven of Riverhead’s first nine points and the Blue Waves trailed, 15-10, entering the second quarter.
“They’re a very aggressive and athletic team and we wanted to come out very competitively and match their aggression,” said Riverhead forward Regan Montefusco.
Copiague (14-2, 11-1), which is chasing what would be its second league championship in three years, led by as many as 15 points in the second quarter before a three-point play by Khan helped close the gap to 10 points at the half.
The third quarter was all Copiague, though.
Riverhead fell into a 1-for-20 shooting funk that started in the second quarter and ended in the fourth. The Blue Waves were outscored, 23-5, in the third quarter when Lanyah Ford poured in eight of her 15 points.
Copiague knows how to put the ball in the basket, particularly with Tayanee Peay (19.8 points per game entering the contest) and Ford (15.1). Peay finished with 23 points, six assists, five rebounds and five steals. Faith McCombs totaled 19 points and 10 rebounds. Melinda Harris added 12 points and six assists.
And Copiague was without its big girl, the 6-2 Briyanna Covington.
Against a tough opponent like that, Riverhead, which is in a rebuilding phase, had to be content with the smaller victories in the game, like when reserve Kaleigh Seal beat the buzzer ending the third quarter with a three-point shot off the glass. That was Riverhead’s only field goal of the quarter.
But the most memorable moments of the game came near the end. Copiague’s Amaya Williams, a double amputee who plays with prosthetics legs, came off the bench late in the fourth quarter and nailed successive three-pointers, delighting the crowd and her teammates.
“She’s a great inspiration for the team,” Copiague coach Carole Olsen said of the junior guard in her first season on the varsity team.
Copiague shot a sizzling 67.7 percent (42-for-62) from the field and outrebounded Riverhead, 35-21.
Dunn’s 12 points and eight rebounds led Riverhead, which received seven points each from Ishanti Gumbs and Khan.
“It’s been tough this season, especially since we have a lot more potential to do better than we have been doing,” said Montefusco, who had five points and seven assists.
It hasn’t helped that Riverhead has been without one of its regular starters, Angie Graziano, for a few weeks because of a heel injury.
Still, the Blue Waves have kept their heads up.
“The season has been a little rough, but we come to practice every day to get better,” Khan said. “We’re not a discouraged team at all.”
Photo caption: A trying rebuilding season for Riverhead included a game against a tough opponent, Copiague, on Tuesday. (Credit: Bob Liepa)