By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller
Clearly there’s something special going on with the current class of female athletes at Pierson High School. For the third consecutive season dating back to last spring, the Lady Whalers are champions of Suffolk County.
This time it was the girls basketball program solidifying its return to prominence with a 54-49 victory over Southold in the Suffolk Class C Championship at Northport High School on Tuesday afternoon, giving the Lady Whalers their first county title in basketball since 2000. This coming on the heels of the program’s first League VIII title in 22 years.
“I told these girls we had a chance to be the best team in 20 years,” head coach Kevin Barron said. “And they ran with it.”
Next up for Pierson is the Suffolk B-C game this Saturday night at 6 p.m. against Hampton Bays at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, with the winner advancing to the Suffolk Small Schools title game against the Class A champion on Monday at Farmingdale State College at 5 p.m.
The Long Island Championship, likely to be played against Nassau’s Friends Academy, will double as a state regional semifinal on March 4 at 4 p.m., also at St. Joe’s.
Pierson withstood a barrage of three-point baskets by Southold in the first half on Tuesday and clawed back to overcome a 12-point first-half deficit in the game’s final two minutes.
Kasey Gilbride and Erica Selyukova, the staples who connect Pierson’s last three championship teams in softball, field hockey and basketball, were crucial down the stretch, with Gilbride, who played the entire fourth quarter with four fouls, hitting a reverse layup with 2:09 remaining to tie the game at 49 apiece. Moments later, a foul shot by Isabel Peters gave Pierson the lead, and Selyukova’s full-court baseball pass found a streaking Bridget Canavan, who put the Lady Whalers ahead by three with 13.3 seconds to play.
Selyukova, who finished 12 points and 16 rebounds, iced the game by hitting two foul shots with less than 10 seconds to play.
“You can ask anyone, even our opponents, and every team says they don’t know who to guard because we have so many great players,” said Gilbride, who led Pierson with 13 points. “It makes it really hard on our opponents.”
Canavan contributed a solid all-around game and finished with eight points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Senior Ashley Nill had four points off the bench, and May Evjen scored all nine of her points in the first half before fouling out with just over three minutes gone in the third quarter.
“I was nervous when May went out,” Barron said about Evjen, the team’s co-captain alongside senior Eilis Sheil. “She got that fourth foul so quickly, and I turned around to put in a sub, and she got her fifth.”
Barron praised Peters, who is just a freshman, for performing well in such a big game.
“Isabel stepped up, for a freshman, that was unbelievable,” Barron said. “Without her we would have been in deep trouble.”
Justina Babcock finished with 12 points for Southold and Carrie Gehring ended her decorated career with 11 points and 16 rebounds. Gehring’s fifth foul with 1:59 remaining gave Peters the foul shot with which she gave Pierson the lead for good.