Comeback Falls Short as Lady Whalers Fall in County Final

Pierson's Lily Kot turns the corner on her way to the basket during the Suffolk County Class C Championship game at Riverhead High School on Saturday.

Pierson’s Lily Kot turns the corner on her way to the basket during the Suffolk County Class C Championship game at Riverhead High School on Saturday.

By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller

Down by 13 points late and with the end of their high school basketball careers seemingly at hand, Nia Dawson, Lily Kot and Isabel Peters made one last spirited charge in the final moments of the Suffolk County Class C Championship game at Riverhead High School on Saturday. Pierson/Bridgehampton went on a 9-0 run to start the fourth against Port Jefferson and turned a would-be blowout into an instant playoff classic.

Peters hit two free throws with 17 seconds left to pull within two. Jocelyn Lebron hit a foul shot to push the Lady Royals’ lead to three, and Pierson head coach Kevin Barron called a full timeout to draw up a final play. A miscommunication with referees followed, and the Lady Whalers were refused the ball at half court, as is customary in that moment, though a coach is required to make the request. Instead, Dawson dribbled the length of the court and got a good look at a long-range three-pointer from the top of the key, but her shot bounced off the rim to effectively bring the game to an end.

Port Jeff, which lost to Pierson in the same game and on the same floor last season, won its first county title since 1927 by a final score of 46-43. The Lady Royals advance in both the overall Suffolk County and New York State Class C playoffs, with the Long Island Championship scheduled for March 6 at SUNY Old Westbury.

Saturday’s result was a remarkable turnaround from the regular-season finale on February 11, which the Lady Royals won by 34 points. Port Jeff star senior Courtney Lewis had 39 points in that game to eclipse 2,000 for her career, but was held to just 12 on Saturday before fouling out with 1:17 remaining in the game.

“I said ‘if you hold her under 20, the game is going to be close,’” Barron said after the game about Lewis, who was held in check by foul trouble and stifling man-to-man defense from Kot. “There’s not many teams who can do that, in any sport. You lose by 30 a week ago and come back and lose by three. I don’t know if they could have done much more today.”

Pierson trailed 38-25 going into the fourth quarter and it seemed like another lopsided win was in sight for the Lady Royals. Kot hit a three to start the fourth quarter, and Dawson followed with two straight steals at mid-court that led to four quick points for the Lady Whalers. A jumper from Kot pulled Pierson within four and capped a frenzied 9-0 run, which prompted a timeout with 3:51 remaining.

Nia Dawson pushes her way past two Port Jefferson defenders.

The teams traded free throws and Pierson had the ball down three with 16 seconds left and a full timeout. Barron drew up a play to begin at half court, but Pierson instead had to go the full length after a heated discussion between Barron and the game’s three referees.

“I told them during the foul shot I wanted a timeout and I want to advance the ball,” Barron said. “He told me he didn’t hear me. I would hope he would’ve asked me, but I’m not going to focus on that. That’s not the reason we lost the game.”

Dawson’s final shot missed the mark and her decorated career came to an end with a game-high 17 points. Kot finished with 15 and Peters had six. They, along with fellow senior Lottie Evans, will graduate this spring, joining Alyssa Kneeland, who graduated early.

“I am going to miss them tremendously,” Barron said about his senior class. “They helped build a program that’s dedicated, something for Pierson to be proud of. They helped do that along with a lot of other basketball alumni. I’d do anything for those girls.”

Pierson players react as the last seconds of the game slip away against Port Jefferson on Saturday.