A Bittersweet End for Barron and the Lady Whalers

Pierson's Katie Kneeland gets a hug from her father and coach, George Kneeland, after coming out of the game for the last time in her high school career against Millbrook on Saturday in the New York State Class C Regional Final at SUNY New Paltz on Saturday. Michael Heller photos

The outpouring of emotion following Saturday’s New York State Class C Southeast Regional Final did not, exactly, include tears of joy. But it was not all sadness either.

In fact, there were even a few smiles.

One of the best seasons in program history — one that included a 19-game win streak, a League VI Championship and a pair of victories in the Suffolk County tournament — ended Saturday for the Pierson/Bridgehampton girls basketball team at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

The defending Class C state champion Millbrook Blazers (20-0) brushed aside the Lady Whalers, 55-26, to advance to next weekend’s final four at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. The champions of Section 9 will face either Cooperstown, from Section 3, or Watkins Glen, from Section 4.

Chastin Giles attempts to get off a shot against Millbrook on Saturday.

The Lady Whalers, meanwhile, will graduate nine Pierson and Bridgehampton seniors this spring and head coach Kevin Barron paced the sideline for the last time as well, at least for the time being. Barron, who coached the Pierson JV boys basketball team in 2008, JV girls starting in 2009 and the varsity team for the last seven seasons, announced earlier this year that he would step aside to spend more time with his family, including his two young children.

All those endings provided for an emotional backdrop during the postgame on Saturday.

“I tried to say something in the locker room and I got all choked up,” Barron said with tears in his eyes. “The seniors, I could talk forever about each one of them. They’re all great kids.”

“I’m so happy to go out with this team,” added senior Katie Kneeland, who scored just nine points on Saturday but ended with 1,043 for her career. “We played awesome on the court, but we did that because we had such great chemistry off the court. I’ve been on the team for five years and this is the most close-knit group of girls I’ve ever played with.”

Millbrook came right out of the gate on an 11-0 run, led by their Marist College-bound junior forward, Erin Fox, who led all scorers with 26 points. Pierson (19-5) didn’t score until Kneeland hit a three with 1:14 left in the first quarter and the Blazers by halftime led 27-7.

“They were good, they were a well-rounded team,” said Pierson senior Celia Barranco, who finished with a team-high 10 points. “We started out slow in the first half and toward the end of the third we started picking it up. We should have started that way from the beginning.”

Junior guard Chastin Giles, who will return to lead next year’s team, struggled to score, finishing with just one point, but made a pair of nice passes to set up Kneeland and Aziza El during a quick 6-0 run near the start of the third quarter that pulled the Lady Whalers within 15.

But with Fox and senior Sam McKenna, another future college player, scoring at will, Millbrook pushed the lead to 25 going into the final quarter.

Celia Barranco drives to the basket.

The one bright spot toward the end was that Pierson was able to empty its bench, with seniors Phoebe Arkinson and Paige Schaefer each scoring baskets in their final game as Lady Whalers. They will graduate this spring along with Kneeland, Barranco, El, Autumn Coffey, Olivia Aupperlee, Carly Browngardt and Monasia Street.

“The other six that are underclassmen, they’re going to be a great team next year,” Barron said, looking forward. “The JV team was undefeated in league play. Those girls with Chastin and Sofia [Mancino], they’re going to be a talented team.”

With that, Barron rounded up his team and the nine seniors who said their final goodbyes to high school basketball. He also took a moment to reflect on his own future and those who helped him along the way.

“I want to thank my assistant coaches, Woody and George Kneeland,” he said. “They have been the best people to work with and amazing mentors for the girls the past seven years. We could not have done it without them

“I’m going to miss the competitive nature, it’s in my blood,” he added about stepping down as head coach. “But it’s going to be fun to be a fan next year.”

Playing in her last game, Katie Kneeland scored seven points to finish with 1,041 for her career.