Girls Basketball: Wildcats win, advance to county finals
In their hardest fought wins of the season, Shoreham-Wading River closed out rival West Babylon 53-51 Wednesday afternoon to advance to the Section XI Class A county finals.
Juliana Mahan’s layup put Shoreham-Wading River ahead 53-51 with under a minute left. Following another possession, West Babylon called timeout, advancing the ball to half court with 3.2 seconds remaining. That left plenty of time to inbound the ball, take a few dribbles and let the winning shot fly. The reigning county champs had already made eight treys in the game – a ninth would be the game winner.
The whistle sounded and West Babylon broke into their play, the ball was thrown in near the sidelines but GraceAnn Leonard knifed in front of her opponent and ripped it out of her hands to take possession. The last seconds ticked off and Shoreham-Wading River punched their ticket to the Suffolk County finals.
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Leonard was instrumental down the stretch, snagging a steal with 40 seconds left to set up Mahan’s winning bucket.
“She’s just cut from a different cloth,” SWR head coach Adam Lievre said. “I saw it in her when she was an 8th grader. She was smaller then but she’s always been special.”
“I knew I could be aggressive because most of the other girls were struggling with fouls,” said Leonard, who led the team with 8 takeaways. “But honestly that steal at the end was just luck. I just got in there and tried to make a play when we needed it most.”
It was a back-and-forth game for the Wildcats — something they hadn’t contended with so far this season. They fell behind by as many as 8 points early in the third quarter.
“We may have been down like 6-4 or 8-6 or something like that but to be down by 8 points I wasn’t sure how they would respond,” Lievre said. “In the biggest game and the biggest moment, we made the plays when we needed to make them.”
Facing foul trouble for most of the game, Wildcats leading scorer Sophie Costello was relegated to the bench during many crucial stretches. That forced the rest of the team to step up. Mahan rose to the challenge. The junior scored 18 points to go along with 10 rebounds and 2 big-time blocks.
“Jules was huge,” Lievre said. “We’ve never had a big [center] in the 20 years I’ve been coaching here. She’s been the biggest addition to the starting lineup. That layup at the end of the game was something we worked on for the last three and a half months.”
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Mahan was a force the entire game. It was fitting that she would take the final shot for the Wildcats.
“Honestly, I didn’t want it to be me to take the final shot,” Mahan said. “I didn’t want to be the one that let the team down. But I knew they had faith in me since Day 1 and have seen my improvement since last year.”
Mahan also battled with foul trouble and was pulled after her 4th foul late in the third quarter. It was right after the Wildcats fought back to tie the game after being down 8.
“It was just something we had to deal with today,” Mahan said. “But at the end of the day I had faith in my teammates and it doesn’t matter if we won by one point or 20. It just matters who is on top at the end of the game.”
It was a full team effort to knock off West Babylon (17-5). They fought tooth-and-nail and looked every bit a championship contender. Leonard scored 11, Annie Sheehan and Colleen Ohrtman both scored 8 in Costello’s absence.
“Last year they crushed us,” Leonard said. “We knew we couldn’t let up at any point. If we did, they would have taken a big lead and it could have been bad.”
The win pushes the Wildcats (22-0) to the brink of school history. The team has never won a Suffolk County championship. They will play No. 2 Kings Park on Saturday in the Section XI Class A county championship at Stony Brook University. Kings Park defeated No. 3 East Islip, 43-39 in the semifinals.
“They have three all-league players,” Lievre said of Kings Park. “They have some size but that’s all I really know. Tonight I’ll get to some film.”