The Pierson/Bridgehampton girls basketball team went shorthanded into its Long Island Class C Championship against East Rockaway on Monday afternoon at Newfield High School in Selden, and while it gave the Nassau County champs a hard fought game, missing a pair of starters proved to be too difficult to overcome in the 54-43 loss.
East Rockaway, which has won the ‘C’ Long Island title two of the past three seasons, advanced to the Regional Finals, where it will play the winner of Millbrook/Haldane on Sunday at a site and time to be determined. The loss effectively ends the Lady Whalers’ season.
Gylia “Gigi” Dryden and Sofia Mancino were the two starters that Pierson was missing on Monday. Dryden collided with teammate Chastin Giles in the Small Schools Championship against Westhampton Beach on February 29, but it was originally thought that she avoided suffering a concussion.
That apparently wasn’t the case, as she was put into concussion protocol a few days after that game, according to head coach John “Woody” Kneeland. Dryden was cleared by a doctor late last week, but Section XI, the governing body of Suffolk County high school athletics, would not clear her until Wednesday, Kneeland said.
Mancino missed the Long Island Championship due to an illness, and when she didn’t attend school on Monday, that put her officially out for the game. Kneeland said it was frustrating not having both players, “because they didn’t beat the Pierson Whalers, they only beat a part of us,” he said. “It is what it is. We didn’t have everybody. Somebody had to step up. We didn’t step up enough.”
Pierson got off to a good start on Monday, starting the game on a 7-0 run and leading East Rockaway by as many as 10 points in the first quarter. But the Lady Rocks started to find their groove in the second, going on a 12-2 run that spanned over the final five minutes of the first half. Katy Howard gave East Rockaway a 22-21 lead on a layup with 1:45 left, which was the score at halftime and a lead that the Lady Rocks wouldn’t surrender.
Pierson only scored four points from midway through the second through halfway through the third quarter, but to their credit, the Lady Whalers did give a good fight in the fourth quarter. Back-to-back three-pointers by Giles, who finished with a team-high 22 points, and a pair of front-end free throws by Meredith Spolarich pulled Pierson within four points of East Rockaway’s lead, at 45-41, with just under three minutes remaining. But East Rockaway went on another quick run to close out the game.
“We just lost our composure too much,” Kneeland said. “We just didn’t execute. We win games on defense and we didn’t execute on defense for a long stretch of time.”
Giles will now headline a group of four players, along with Kathryn Powell, Halle Kneeland and Mahlia Hemby, who will be graduating in June. Giles was the latest Pierson player to score over 1,000 career points, and had a big hand in the team’s success over her three years at the school. She is undecided on where to go to college, but she will likely land a spot on a women’s basketball team somewhere, Kneeland said.
“She’s obviously a dynamic player, which that’s the exciting part,” he said. “Sometimes that gets in the way a little in the team concept, but it’s all from the right place. She’s doing it from her heart, and I get that. Basketball is the biggest team sport, as far as I’m concerned, so I know it comes from her heart. She’s the most passionate kid on the team. That might come off looking ugly sometimes, but I know her through and through, and I know it comes from a good spot. She just never wants to lose, never. I get it and I appreciate that and I love her for that. It comes from a good place, that’s the bottom line.”
While the loss of Giles will be felt, four of the team’s five starters are returning, along with the majority of the team. And there are “waves” of young players who are coming up through the ranks, Kneeland said. He did mention, though, that he wished Pierson’s plethora of athletes would give some time to basketball in the offseason.
“Basketball is never the number one sport at Pierson, but it does pretty well, at least over the past eight years,” he said. “We were undefeated last year, we won the B/C Championship this year, took third place in the league, all after losing 10 seniors last season. We do good things with a bunch of players that don’t play basketball. That’s exciting, but the reality is, how much are they going to give me on the side? Are they going to give me a little bit? I don’t even ask for a lot, but if they can give me a little. They’re such good athletes that even a little bit helps them get over the top on the basketball court and makes us that much better as a team.”