The atmosphere in the playoffs is different. The crowd is bigger, there’s three referees instead of two and most importantly, there’s more at stake. The 20-0 regular season record Shoreham-Wading River compiled is irrelevant. Everyone is 0-0 again.
The circumstances may have changed, but it was the same old Wildcats on Friday night at Shoreham-Wading River High School in the first round of the Section XI Class A playoffs. The first-seeded Wildcats upended No. 8 Comsewogue, 73-39.
But before the game got out of reach, Comsewogue was right in the thick of things as both teams felt each other out.
“I felt like in the beginning we missed a few shots that maybe we normally make,” SWR head coach Adam Lievre said. “We had some trouble with the man-to-man.”
PHOTOS BY ROBERT O’ROURK
Typically the Wildcats like to drive to the basket for layups, but Comsewogue did a good job of taking that away. As an offensive player came inside, the defense collapsed, leaving space on the perimeter.
“And then Colleen got hot,” Lievre said.
Colleen Ohrtman took advantage of the open space and started letting 3-point shots fly. The senior got the offense going with four consecutive treys in the first quarter – the last of which she hit at the buzzer.
“It felt really good to finally hit my shots,” Ohrtman said, donning the MVP chain that Lievre hands out after every game. “Hitting the first shot boosted my confidence so I just continued to take my shots.”
Not one of them even hit the rim. There’s no better sound to a shooter than hearing the swish of the net.
“It was so exciting,” Ohrtman said. “Having the whole student section there and them being so loud, it was a different vibe. There was so much energy.”
The slow start could have been rust from the long layoff — the Wildcats last regular-season game was played Feb. 3 — but eventually the team found its form.
“We know there’s a lot of pressure on us because we’re the No. 1 seed,” Ohrtman said. “It was just a matter of time before we started making shots because we worked so hard in practice this week to prepare ourselves to play the way we’re supposed to play.”
PHOTOS BY ROBERT O’ROURK
Sophie Costello, who led the team with 16 points, had some trouble hitting from the field early on.
“Maybe I was a little bit nervous at first, but I know I have to keep shooting and hopefully they fall,” Costello said. “We’re a good shooting team so once we get warmed up and the steals keep coming in, we just blow it away.”
Costello contributed 8 steals to lead the team and GraceAnn Leonard added 6 more. In total, SWR forced Comsewogue into 25 turnovers.
“I just trust my teammates on defense,” Costello said. “If I’m leaking out a little bit further, Annie (Sheehan) or Colleen are there on the back side. GraceAnn is really incredible at deflecting the ball so I just trust they’ll have my back if I don’t get the steal.”
Leonard scored 12 points mostly from the free throw line. Her elusive driving in the paint led to multiple fouls. Juliana Mahan was her usual self under the basket, grabbing 10 rebounds and scoring 12 points. Annie Sheehan added 8 points in the victory.
“I don’t think it was our best performance offensively,” Coach Lievre said. “But eventually the defense took over in the second half.”
Lievre thinks it will be the defense that will be the difference maker going forward.
“We haven’t had a game yet where it was close, close – where we have to wear an opponent down on defense,” Lievre said. “But in the back of my mind, I do think that’s going to be a possibility the deeper we go into the playoffs as you play better and better teams.”
With one game in the books, the Wildcats now take on No. 4 West Babylon in the Class A semifinals. The game is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at Centereach High School. West Babylon defeated the Wildcats last year in the playoffs and ended up winning the Suffolk County championship. Looks like it’s time for revenge.
“We got beat pretty bad by them last year,” Costello said. “So we’re coming out with fire this time around.”