SWR Wildcat Keegan leads team advance to semi-finals

The Shoreham-Wading River girls basketball players end their warmup session the same way every game — a make from the free throw line followed by two layups. When Kady Keegan got up to the line to shoot her free throw, she missed two in a row. Even though the game was about to start, she shot another and made it. Juliana Mahan quickly grabbed the ball, drained her layups and sprinted back to the bench for the opening announcements in the playoff opener against Islip last Friday. 

“It’s become a tradition for us,” Mahan said. “We always want to end on a make. It’s like good luck in a way.”

That extra shot may have boosted Keegan’s confidence as she led the Wildcats to a 44-26 victory at Shoreham-Wading River High School to cement a spot in the Suffolk County Class A semifinals. Keegan scored a career-high 17 points and caused absolute havoc in the passing lanes, coming away with five steals.

“Keegan was huge for us today,” SWR head coach Adam Lievre said. “I told her before the game as we were walking out of the locker room, ‘You have to shoot. If you’re 0-for-5, the sixth one still needs to go up.’ She ended up having a great shooting night and hit some crucial layups.”

The fourth-seeded Wildcats had trouble to start the game, committing turnovers in each of their first four possessions. The good news was Islip was having trouble scoring as well, and the first quarter ended with Shoreham-Wading River up 6-4. Keegan scored all six of SWR’s points in that first quarter.

“I was debating whether I was watching a JV or varsity game for a little bit there,” Lievre joked. “But we finally got back to our brand of basketball.”

The Wildcat defense got more fierce as the game went on. Steals started coming in bunches, and the lead started to swell as turnovers led to fast break buckets on the other end. SWR finished the first half with 13 steals and a 12-point lead over No. 5 Islip. 

“We read the reversals very well and got our hands on a lot of them,” Lievre said. “But it’s not always about steals. Sometimes it’s just about a simple deflection. It slows the pass down and leads to less open shots. Even forcing them to lob it instead of a straight pass allows the defense to rotate better.”

“Defense is our best offense,” said Mahan, who scored 14 points in the victory. “It’s been that way all year long. The more we force turnovers the better off we’ll be.”

Mahan also notched 15 rebounds and four steals. Though she was often double-teamed and had trouble scoring at times, the extra attention allowed space for others to shoot. Keegan relished the opportunity to contribute in the most important game of the season thus far.

“I’m always a defense-first type of player,” Keegan said. “But I was getting a lot of open shots today and I just did my best to make them.”

The lead grew to 23 points in a dominant third quarter, and Islip just didn’t have enough juice to make a comeback despite Carley Mullins scoring six consecutive fourth quarter points in only about a minute of action.

The victory sets up a rematch of last year’s Suffolk County championship in the semifinals. The Wildcats take on No. 1 seed Kings Park Wednesday night at Centereach High School. Game results will be posted to Riverhead-News Review website.

“Both teams are very similar in that we both graduated four starters [from last season],” Lievre said. “It’s a little bit different circumstances doing the rematch in the semifinals but it should be a great game.”

The lone returning starter for each team happens to be at the center position. Mahan was again matches up against the 6-foot-2 Ryan Currier. In last year’s county title game, Currier netted 15 points and scored most often on offensive rebounds.

“It’s basically our bench last year versus their bench,” Lievre said. “They do a lot of pressing. We’re going to have to handle the press. With Currier on the other side we’re going to have to prioritize rebounding. She’s got like two inches on Jules [Mahan]. Like I said earlier, it’s anyone’s championship this year.”