On a night when the Pierson faithful hoped to celebrate one senior’s career offensive excellence, it was team defense that ruled the day instead.
The Pierson/Bridgehampton girls basketball team won the Suffolk County C/D championship with a grind-it-out 55-31 win over Smithtown Christian at Centereach High School on Friday night. Next up, Pierson will face Mattituck, which won the Class B championship by knocking off Port Jefferson in the nightcap, this Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. back at Centereach with the B/C/D title on the line.
Pierson senior Katie Kneeland went into the game on Friday needing just 22 points to reach 1,000 for her career. She came up short, finishing with 17 points, and will likely reach the milestone against a Mattituck team looking to avenge a pair of regular-season losses to the League VI champion Lady Whalers. The last Lady Whaler to score 1,000 points in a career was Robyn Bramoff in 2000.
“It’s tough when the other team is completely denying you the ball the whole game,” Pierson head coach Kevin Barron said after the game. “I tried to set her up a little bit and that’s why she scored more in the second half. I want her touching the ball as much as possible anyway, so we tried to get her some screens in the low post. She knows winning is more important than anything.
“I want to play as many games as possible before March 9,” he added, referencing Pierson’s next elimination game, a Class C Southeast Regional final against a team from either Section I or Section IX with a state final four berth on the line. “We’re just looking to win. We want to make it to that small school championship game.”
If the Lady Whalers (18-3) get by Mattituck for a third time this season on Wednesdasy, they will advance to play the Class A champion, either Hauppauge, Mt. Sinai, Westhampton or Eastport/South Manor, on Friday, February 23, at Walt Whitman High School, with that game’s winner going on to face the Class AA champion for the overall Suffolk County Championship.
During the first half on Friday, though, it looked as if the Lady Whalers might have a long rest before their March 9 game instead. They let an 11-point lead slip away in the second quarter, and despite suffocating defense by Pierson’s Sofia Mancino, Smithtown Christian’s eighth-grade point guard, Abigail Loiacono, scored 10 points in the first half to pull her team within four at halftime.
Pierson guard Chastin Giles sat the last five minutes of the second quarter and the first three minutes of the third in foul trouble. By the time she returned, Kneeland had scored five quick points to push her total to nine for the game, and the Lady Whalers rattled off a 20-1 run to essentially put the game away. With two minutes remaining, Barron pulled his starters with Kneeland just five points shy of her big milestone.
“I looked at my mom in the stands and she put up a five, so I knew I was five points away with two minutes left, but we were winning by so much it’s not really appropriate for me to go all out at the end,” Kneeland said. “It was a good move for coach to pull out all the starters.”
Barron credited the team’s “clamp down” defense and the play of frontline roll players like Aziza El, who finished with 10 points, Phoebe Arkinson, Carly Browngardt and Celia Barranco with a solid team victory. He also said the defensive play of “Clamp Down” Mancino has been a big factor to the team’s success all season.
“I came out there and just wanted to work really hard,” Mancino said later. “It’s all about team and our chemistry has been really, really good this season. We’re definitely a defensive team and usually defense wins the game.”