Oh, so close.
Yet so far away.
The Riverhead High School girls basketball team did just about everything in its power to snap its nine-game losing streak and gain its first Suffolk County League Division 2 win on Tuesday.
The Blue Waves fell short, dropping a frustrating 53-48 home decision to Bellport.
“These girls played hard today,” Riverhead head coach Cherese Hinckson said. “We’re starting to put it together. This is the probably the best game they played this season.”
Hinckson added that the game “was very exhausting emotionally for us because we’re such a tight team that we want it for each other so much. For us not to pull it out today, it was tough.”
It was little consolation that it was the second closest loss for the Blue Waves (1-12, 1-10) this season.
“Definitely being a senior, it’s a tough pill to swallow when you lose by five,” said Angelina Pace, who scored 14 points.
Riverhead’s lone win this season was a 54-21 victory at Amityville on Dec. 10.
“We really wanted to win as a team,” said sophomore Logan Pilon, who led the Blue Waves with 18 points. “We could have definitely worked a bit harder in the first half, but the third and fourth quarter we really pushed ourselves. The fourth quarter was one of our best quarters. But it all starts in the beginning of the game and that’s when it really kind of went away for us.”
LEFT: Riverhead junior Nariah Dent looks for an open shooter in a home game against Bellport. RIGHT: Riverhead senior Angelina Pace shoots for the Blue Waves. (Credit: Bill Landon)
Hinckson was encouraged by the start as Riverhead scored 17 first-quarter points to grab a six-point lead.
Pace was red-hot during those opening eight minutes, scoring 11 points. She buried a trio of three-point shots and another basket before the Clippers (3-11, 2-8) deployed a man-to-man defense to take away her outside shot.
“I felt great,” Pace said. “They were playing two-three light defense. Pretty easy for me to get a shot. But as soon as I hit my third three, that was it. They went right into man [defense]. At that point, it’s hard to get open.”
After Pilon’s layup gave the hosts a 19-11 lead 37 seconds into the second period, Bellport took charge the rest of the quarter, outscoring Riverhead, 14-7, to narrow the gap to 26-25 at halftime.
The game continued to tip Bellport’s way in the third quarter as junior guard Brynn Johnsen, who ripped the nets for a season-high 30 points (and five steals), took over. She scored 12 points in the period. Her layup off a turnover gave the Clippers a 36-34 lead with 1:37 remaining they did not relinquish.
Pilon, whose drives toward the basket kept the Blues within striking distance as she converted seven second-half free throws, sank one to bring the Blue Waves within at 48-44 with 2:23 left.
“Logan played hard. She played awesome like she usually does,” Hinckson said. “Logan will give 110 percent. Sometimes I have to remember to take her out of the game so she can get a breather. But I expect nothing but the best from Logan.”
The same thing could be said for Johnson, who continued to be a thorn in Riverhead’s side by hitting her lone trey to give Bellport a seven-point advantage at 51-44 with 1:26 remaining. Rosie Micucci added 16 points and 12 rebounds for Bellport.
The game then became a chess match between the teams as the coaches called a combined seven timeouts. Riverhead needed points while Bellport needed to take time off the clock.
The visitors won that battle, although the Blue Waves did not go down without a fight.
“We all played hard,” Pace said. “We never pass the blame if somebody makes a mistake. We take full accountability. We never get frustrated with each other. We kept playing until the clock hit 00:00. That’s all I could ask from them.”
The availability of senior standout Michaela Ligon still is in doubt. Ligon, considered one of the top basketball players on Long Island hasn’t played this season since suffering a knee injury last year. She attends every game, sits next to the coaches and helps out the squad during pre-game shooting and drills.
Asked whether Ligon will play this season, Hinckson replied, “That’s actually a question you would have to ask Michaela, but she’s a great player coach. She’s helping us out tremendously. So regardless if she’s not playing, she’s still fine.”