As far as birthdays go, Abby Korzekwinski’s 18th on Friday wasn’t bad. Along with a big upset victory by her Shoreham-Wading River girls basketball team came the clinching of a playoff spot and, undoubtedly, some cake to look forward to later.
As far as birthday gifts go, teammate Sophie Costello had something for the basketball player whose game seems to have everything. When host SWR wasn’t at its sharpest in the first half of the Suffolk County League VI game against second-place Bayport-Blue Point, Costello did her darnedest to keep the Wildcats close. The freshman guard scored 10 of her 15 points in the first half.
For all of its early troubles, SWR never trailed by more than eight points before closing the game on a 9-2 surge for a 57-50 triumph. The win, SWR’s sixth in seven games, clinched a 14th consecutive playoff berth for the Wildcats (10-7, 8-5).
“It’s feels great to know that we’ve had a program and it keeps building and [is] only getting better from here,” said Korzekwinski, clutching the “Happy Birthday” balloons that were tied to her seat on the bench. “So, if we just keep pushing, we can get our record higher and maybe go further than we ever had before.”
For all of its success in reaching the playoffs, SWR has never won a county championship. Asked if that surprised him, coach Adam Lievre answered: “Yes and no. Part of what made us successful is we have athletes. We’re usually not loaded with basketball players, and usually the teams we have lost to in the playoffs have multiple basketball players. Once you get in [the playoffs], one little thing goes wrong and your season’s over.”
Korzekwinski had 15 points and nine rebounds, but the birthday girl had to navigate foul trouble. She walked off the court after hurting her ankle 3 minutes, 14 seconds into the second quarter. The senior forward re-entered the game exactly 60 seconds later.
But Korzekwinski returned to the bench at 1:17 of the third quarter when she picked up her third personal foul. She sat out the remainder of the quarter, returned for the start of the fourth quarter, but just 53 seconds into that period she was whistled for her fourth foul. Back to the bench she went. She played the final 3:56.
Meanwhile, Costello was a catalyst, a dynamo. She helped make up for Korzekwinski’s absence on the floor while she was in foul trouble.
“Abby’s like a really important part of our team,” Costello said. “She’s like definitely the leader, so when she’s out, we all have to step up.”
In what might have been Costello’s most impressive move of the game, she quickly darted around a defender for a layup after receiving a pass from Alexa Constant in the second quarter. It seemed like whenever SWR was in need of a play to be made, Costello made it. In addition to her scoring, she had seven rebounds, seven steals and four assists.
“I gave her the game MVP hat,” Lievre said. “She kept us in the game in the first half. If Sophie didn’t have that first half, this game might not have turned out the way it turned out.”
SWR’s Hayden Lachenmeyer, who gathered 14 rebounds to go with eight points, liked what she saw from Costello. “I think she played great today … especially in the first half when everyone was kind of off, she was still just making every shot, basically,” said the senior center.
Despite starting off the game with 2-for-21 shooting, SWR trailed by only 12-10 early in the second quarter. Bayport (11-4, 8-4) led for most of the first half, but the second half was a back-and-forth battle (eight lead changes) in which the teams were never separated by more than four points until SWR’s closing 9-2 run.
With the score tied at 48-48, a driving layup by GraceAnn Leonard, three free throws by Korzekwinski and a pair by Leonard pushed SWR’s lead to 55-48 with 18.3 seconds left, securing a victory that avenged an eight-point loss to Bayport Dec. 18.
“We proved we could play with the better teams,” said Lievre, whose team turned its season around with a road win at Sayville.
Bayport’s Olivia Monturo, who entered the game with the second-highest scoring average in Suffolk, according to Newsday, met her average with 27 points. Caroline Moller provided the Phantoms with a double-double: 10 points and 11 rebounds.
After three more regular-season games, SWR will go back to a familiar place — the playoffs.
“We’re doing great,” Korzekwinski said. “We got to keep pushing.”