It’s official. Katie Kneeland is in the record books.
Pierson’s senior forward scored her 1,000th career point on a free throw with 32.7 seconds remaining in the first quarter of Wednesday night’s Suffolk County Class B/C/D Championship game, which the Lady Whalers went on to win, 46-41, at Centereach High School to advance in the overall county tournament.
Pierson will play Mt. Sinai, the Class A champion, on Friday, February 22, at Walt Whitman High School at 4:30 p.m., with the winner advancing to play the Class AA champion, either Longwood or Northport, for the overall county championship on Wednesday, February 27. Neither game will eliminate Pierson from the postseason, however, since the Class C state playoffs will resume with a Southeast Regional Final on March 9 against a team from either Section I or Section IX.
The winner of that game will play in the New York State Public High School Girls Basketball Championships over the weekend of March 15 through 17 at Hudson Valley Community College north of Albany.
Kneeland entered Wednesday’s game with Mattituck just five points shy of the big career milestone, which only two girls — Robyn Bramoff and Kate Browngardt — had accomplished before her in school history. When Kneeland hit the first of two free throws, the game was stopped and a short celebration took over at center court.
“It’s really exciting to have that title and accomplishment that I get to take away from high school,” Kneeland said afterward. “But more importantly, I think it was cool that I’m a female, and that I was able to do it at my school, where only two people before me had that at my school. That’s really important to me because I want to get girls basketball at Pierson to have more popularity, because the boys have always been the one to see…and I want it to be the girls now, so I hope that helps.”
Regardless of individual accomplishment, the team has been winning enough games for the community to take notice. Wednesday’s victory was Pierson’s 19th consecutive victory dating back to early December of last year. A few more wins, and Kneeland and her teammates will be celebrating history in a much larger context.
“I just told them that playing the winner of this next game, it’s going to be a hundred times harder than everything you experienced because it’s two very competitive schools,” Pierson head coach Kevin Barron said following the win over Mattituck, his team’s third this season against the previously unbeatable Tuckers. “But at the same time, we’re not going to act like it’s going to be a throwaway game. We’re playing for a championship, and it’s also a chance for us to prepare for the regional game.”
Rising the momentum of Kneeland’s big accomplishment, the Lady Whalers (19-3) took a 29-21 lead into halftime, but the Tuckers took it all back and actually took the lead for a brief moment in time. Then, with the game tied at 39 halfway through the fourth quarter, Pierson point guard Chastin Giles hit a big three-pointer and the Lady Whalers never looked back.
Kneeland finished with 19 points and has 1,014 for her career, and Chastin Giles added 14. Mackenzie Hoeg led Mattituck with 14 points.
“We had some mental breakdowns,” Barron said about the game. “It happens sometimes when we play these high-pressure games, but I just told them that’s all part of it. It’s not all just physical, you’ve got to practice the mental pressure situation stuff, as it’s going to prepare us for the state tournament as well. Hopefully we learned from that and will move on.”
With reporting by Michael Heller.