The Shoreham-Wading River girls hoops squad soared to their first Suffolk County title in school history, defeating No. 2 Kings Park, 63-56, in the Section XI Class A championship at Stony Brook University Saturday afternoon.
On the biggest stage, under the brightest lights, senior GraceAnn Leonard put together her best performance of the year, scoring a season-high 27 points in the championship game.
“I just wanted to work as hard as I could,” Leonard said. “I knew this could be my last game ever.”
Leonard set the standard early on for the Wildcats as she came out of the gates in complete control, scoring 9 out of SWR’s first 11 points in the opening two minutes of the game. The Wildcats got out in front and maintained the lead up until the end of the first half when Kings Park started to connect on baskets underneath the hoop and from long range.
PHOTOS BY ROBERT O’ROURK
SWR head coach Adam Lievre’s game plan was built to stop King Park’s biggest threat, 6-foot-2 center Ryan Currier. There was a clear size difference on the boards and Currier was taking full advantage of it. As the Wildcats tried to pull away, Currier, who tallied 15 points, was there for second chance opportunities and kept scoring.
“We had a couple struggles with the height in the first half,” Lievre said. “But all of a sudden they started hitting 3-point shots and that wasn’t in my scouting report.”
Kings Park (19-4) connected on 7 treys and refused to relinquish their lead for most of the second half. They were up by 5 points with a 5:21 left in the game when the momentum suddenly shifted.
Annie Sheehan took it coast-to-coast after a rebound to cut the lead to 3 with a tough layup. The following possession, Leonard got a hold of a loose ball and let a shot fly from beyond the arc: nothing but net. The crowd went wild. She had just tied the game.
“Just wanted to do whatever my team needed in that moment,” Leonard said. “I don’t even shoot threes. I don’t know how many I have this season. It’s not a lot. I just put it up and it went in.”
“She’s maybe hit 20 [3-pointers] in her career,” Lievre said. “But typically when she hits it, it means something. That was a big one.”
Leonard then deflected a pass the next possession and it was picked up by Sophie Costello who took it straight to the basket before getting fouled. Costello put SWR ahead for the first time since the second quarter with a big-time free throw. The Wildcats never looked back.
“Once we got our momentum going and the steals going it was a game changer,” Costello said. “We needed that energy to put the game away.”
Costello got rolling again after a few tough games. She was able to score 16 points and snag 4 steals.
“She was in a really good mindset yesterday at practice,” Lievre said. “I know nothing means more to her than this. She wants to perform at the highest level. That’s what this is all about.”
PHOTOS BY ROBERT O’ROURK
With the final seconds ticking off the clock, the SWR student section started chanting “L.I.C, L.I.C,” a nod to the WildCats advancing to the Long Island Championship game at Farmingdale State College on March 11. Kings Park hit a last second 3-point basket as the buzzer sounded, but the game was sealed. The Wildcats rushed to half court in celebration – some with tears of joy, others with looks of disbelief. History was made. But in the famous words of the late, great Kobe Bryant, the job’s not done.
Next up for SWR is the “bragging rights” tournament where they will take on Port Jefferson, Section XI’s Class C qualifier, in the Small School championship on Tuesday. The winner will play the Large School champ March 4 to vie for “best” in Suffolk County. The results won’t affect the Wildcats’ quest for the Long Island title, but do serve as an important bridge to the next round of the Class A playoffs.
“We just have to keep pushing like we have been,” Costello said. “We’re 23-0 right now. The energy hasn’t dropped for us. Especially since it’s our last season as seniors. Really excited to get as far as we can.”