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Girls Basketball: Korzekwinski-led SWR comes through down stretch

Every year it seems the Shoreham-Wading River High School girls basketball team endures this recurring disappointment in the Suffolk County Class A Tournament.

The Wildcats would earn a playoff berth but would somehow be eliminated in the opening round.

With the sting of last year’s controversial postseason loss at Sayville in the back of their minds, the eighth-seeded Wildcats made sure history wouldn’t repeat itself on Monday night. They overcame a sloppy start, a difficult Mount Sinai team and a six-point deficit late in the third quarter with timely baskets and stellar defense to walk out of their gymnasium with a 37-26 home victory.

“It is a great feeling. Our program has never really made it that far before,” said senior forward Abby Korzekwinski, who scored 10 of her game-high 18 points in the final 10 minutes. “We always make it to the first round and lose. So, it’s really exciting to go through after the first round.”

Almost exactly a year to the day since an excruciating 42-41 defeat to Sayville on Feb. 11, 2019. This result left a much better taste in their mouths.

“It does,” senior forward Hayden Lachenmeyer said, “Especially it being my senior year, still knowing that I have another game to play.”

This time, the Wildcats (13-8) made sure one call was not going to decide the outcome or break their hearts, although they hardly played up to their potential until the third quarter.

Until then, they connected on only 22.2% of their shots (8 of 36) and turned the ball over in key situations against the ninth-seeded Mustangs (12-9).

“There were a lot of nerves,” Korzekwinski said. “It’s a playoff game, so it’s a little bit emotionally different. Everyone is a little nervous. Once we got used to it, it was just a normal game. It was easy from there.”

Even Korzekwinski had problems. She missed a bucketload of shots and turned the ball over several times.

“In the beginning, I was frustrated, traveling a lot,” she said. “I knew I had to shake it off and play on. Things just got better.”

The Wildcats hit their low point with 2 minutes and 35 seconds remaining in the third quarter as Sayville grabbed a 23-17 lead on sophomore guard Kylie Budke’s basket. Budke had a team-high 13 points.

Korzekwinski then took center stage, scoring 10 points down the stretch. “I was in the moment,” she said. “I wasn’t worried about anything else.”

Shoreham coach Adam Lievre wasn’t concerned about her shaky start. “It’s nerves,” he said. “She realizes there’s a lot of pressure on her. She is our best player. This is her senior year. This could have been her last game. Big players usually step up in big games. Can’t ask for more than that.”

Neither could her teammates.

“She’s amazing,” said Lachenmeyer, who scored all of her three points in the fourth quarter, including a 12-footer than gave Shoreham some breathing room at 30-24 with 1:41 remaining. “She always plays great. You can always look to Abby to settle things down, make a big basket, push us over the edge.”

The Wildcats almost doubled their output from the opening three quarters (19 points), by outscoring the Mustangs in the fourth, 18-3. They also held their foes without a basket in the period as Mount Sinai shot 3-for-8 from the foul line.

“Our defense always shines through everything else,” said freshman guard Annie Sheehan, who contributed a vital nine points off the bench with some long-range shots, and four points in the final period.

Lievre named Sheehan his player of the game and she was given a basketball-themed hat to wear until the next game, a team ritual this season.

“Whenever she’s in, we know that she’ll be able to make the shot calmly and won’t be too emotional,” Lachenmeyer said.

Shoreham’s reward is a quarterfinal matchup at top-seeded Westhampton Beach (18-2) on Thursday at 5 p.m. The Wildcats lost both League VI games to the Hurricanes, but Lievre said they were close games.

“We proved we can play with them,” he said. “We matched up well with them. It’s not like it’s going to be a bus ride out there and a quick ride home. I don’t foresee that happening. This gives them a little more confidence. We’ll show up and we’ll play hard.”