Given all the success the Shoreham-Wading River girls basketball team has enjoyed over the years, the startling statistic is the one that smacks you in the face. The number of county titles SWR has won: zero.
It sounds hard to believe, but it’s true. Several factors could play into that, but the overriding one may simply be the tough competition in the Suffolk County Class A Tournament, which can be like navigating a minefield. Sooner or later, SWR runs into a team like West Babylon and — kaboom!
SWR’s hopes for making team history were cut short Friday night when the third-seeded Wildcats, under intense pressure defense and facing a 31-point performance by Lacey Downey, were beaten, 73-44, by No. 2 West Babylon. It was easily the most points SWR has allowed in a game this season.
West Babylon’s pressing and trapping defense rattled the Wildcats, who were never able to get into the rhythm of their typical game. And thus, an atypical result — a SWR defeat. It was only the second loss of the season for SWR (19-2), which saw an unbeaten run end at eight games.
“We hadn’t played against pressure for 32 minutes all year,” SWR coach Adam Lievre said. “You know, most of the teams do not press, do not trap, so yeah, we had to face it tonight.”
West Babylon (18-3) made 26 steals and forced SWR into 36 turnovers. It made the Wildcats work to advance the ball upcourt and prevented them from developing an offensive flow. SWR shot 27.7% from the field to West Babylon’s 41.0%.
“The game was played at another level in terms of speed,” Lievre said. “It was played at another speed and, you know, we just didn’t adjust to it quick enough.”
Was that the best defense the Wildcats faced this season?
“By a mile,” Lievre said. “Most teams play a zone, sit back. They brought it from one end of the court to the other.”
The court in West Babylon High School’s small gym is smaller than the one SWR plays on at home. If that tight space didn’t make the Wildcats feel closed in, the home fans did their part, trying to make the visitors uncomfortable.
“The atmosphere was something else,” said SWR captain Carlie Cutinella.
It was a game of two league champions — League VI SWR and League IV West Babylon — but the Eagles put their stamp on it from the beginning, shooting out to an 8-0 lead. West Babylon used a 12-2 spurt to forge a 26-12 lead in the second quarter, but it was in the third quarter when the Eagles made their big move and twice held leads as large as 32 points. Downey netted 10 points as part of an 18-0 run for a commanding 57-25 advantage. It was too much to overcome.
“They are a great team,” Cutinella said. “You can’t deny that.”
West Babylon also received 10 points from Emma Bllosshmi and eight apiece from Jade Dockery and Brianna Winkler, who also had seven assists.
Sophie Costello was SWR’s top scorer with 13 points. GraceAnn Leonard had 11 and Annie Sheehan eight.
West Babylon, winner of 10 straight, will face No. 1 Kings Park or No. 4 East Islip in the county final Feb. 26 at Newfield High School.
SWR enjoyed its 10th league championship this season, but as far as a county title goes, that will have to wait for another day.
Perhaps the Wildcats thought this could be their year. “We all thought that going in, you know,” Cutinella said. “We knew we had a tough schedule, but as the season was progressing and we started winning games, we got on a streak and we were, you know, blowing teams out by 20, 30. We really saw the future coming, and then I think once they let out the playoff brackets we were like, ‘Alright, we have to put in more effort now to achieve our goal.’ ”
Lievre had spoken during the season about how Suffolk Class A has grown to 22 teams, more than it ever had before. “Playoffs is win or go home,” he said. “So you could be the best team and have a bad night and you go home.”
“In big games, you got to be able to make basketball plays,” he said. “You can’t always rely on team or athletics. West Babylon might be capable of doing that. They’ve got some kids who made us look slow sometimes.”
SWR loses four seniors — starters Mia Rosati and Cutinella as well as reserves Alexa Constant and Sophia Lavey.
Lievre, who has guided SWR into the playoffs in all nine years he has coached the team, told his players this “was the best season that I’ve been a part of.”