They were upset after coming so close to pulling off a big upset.
One by one, members of the Shoreham-Wading River girls basketball team walked slowly off the court at the Sayville gymnasium on Monday night, their eyes teary red.
The 10th-seeded Wildcats had just played the game of their lives against the favored and No. 7 Golden Flashes in the Suffolk County Class A outbracket game, an emotional contest that included a controversial ending in a 42-41 defeat.
Shoreham felt a questionable call by one of the three referees influenced the outcome as Jenna Harclerode sank a foul shot with 4.4 seconds left to snap a tie and boost Sayville into the first round at Eastport-South Manor on Wednesday.
“I couldn’t ask the girls to play any better than they did,” coach Adam Lievre said. “They played their butts off. They deserved to win that game.”
They almost did.
“The way we played, in my mind, we did win this game,” senior forward Melissa Marchese said. “We really came together. We had such good energy out there. That’s why I felt like we won.”
Senior guard Michele Corona, who paced Shoreham with a game-high and personal season-best 22 points, had run the gamut of emotions.
“Happy, anger. … It was heartbreaking.”
The Wildcats, who led for most of the way, overcame a seven-point deficit (41-34) with three minutes and 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Corona sank a basket to knot things up at 41-41 with 48 seconds left.
After Corona missed a layup on the next possession, the rebound was knocked around by both teams as a scramble ensued. While battling for the loose ball, Corona was called for a foul on Harclerode.
Corona claimed it was a 50-50 ball.
“It wasn’t a foul. It was jump ball,” she said. “I think the refs knew they were going to call it.”
Added Marchese: “It was not the right call. My coach had said he really pulled the game right out from under us. There was really nothing we could do after that with four seconds on the clock.”
Lievre had a similar reaction.
“Obviously, it hurts,” he said. “You hate the ref to interject in a big game. I don’t know if it was a foul or not, but with four seconds left, I’d hope they would let the girls fight it out and not the call go to the foul line. Unfortunately, you can’t change it.”
Harclerode sank one of two shots. Shoreham snared the rebound and Abby Korzekwinski’s (eight points) long-range shot hit the backboard and then the rim just as the buzzer sounded.
To appreciate Shoreham’s performance, the Wildcats (9-12) had lost to the Golden Flashes (15-6) by 22 and 19 points, respectively, in their League V encounters.
So, Lievre deployed a new defense against Sayville — a 1-3-1 zone — and it worked to perfection. Harclerode, who totaled 34 points in those two games, was limited to 10. Kerri Gunthe picked up the slack, scoring 11 of her team-high 19 points in the final period.
“The outcome was not very good the first two times, so I had to do something different and it worked,” Lievre said.
It frustrated the Golden Flashes and emboldened the Wildcats.
“We had the drive, the heart,” Corona said. “We were all in it as a team. We weren’t playing individually. We were all together and we wanted to make it past the first round of the playoffs.”
Corona was scintillating in the opening half, scoring 17 points, connecting twice from three-point range, and turned two steals into baskets. Shoreham led 25-20 at the half.
“She was great,” Lievre said. “If this is going to be her last high school basketball game, she went out with a bang. If that’s my last memory of her career, that’s a good one.”
Thirty-two seconds into the second quarter, the game was delayed for seven minutes when it was discovered that the teams had been using the wrong ball. For the county playoffs, Spalding basketballs were supposed to be utilized. The teams had played with a Wilson ball.
“In joking when I picked up the ball, I said to the official, ‘Isn’t this supposed to be a Spalding ball?’ “ Lievre said. “And then it turned it into a bigger deal than it needed to be.”
The correct ball eventually was found, and the game went on.