The Small Schools Championship of the Section XI Tournament is not a meaningless game. In fact, for a very small program such as the Pierson/Bridgehampton girls basketball team, winning such a game can elevate it to new heights. At the same time, it’s not an elimination game for either team when it comes to the ultimate quest of winning a state title, and therefore teams tend to pull things back a bit. Maybe not give its all as if it were a true championship game, and teams will play just about every player on its roster.
The Lady Whalers were playing the Small Schools Championship against Class A Champion Westhampton Beach at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue on Saturday evening as if it were an elimination game, but that came to a screeching halt with about five minutes to play in the first half. Senior Chastin Giles and junior Gylia Dryden both laid out for a loose ball and collided. Giles got up somewhat quickly, but Dryden, coming off a career game in the B/C Qualifier win over Port Jefferson, was slow to get up. Once attended to by trainers and coaches, Dryden was able to get to her feet, albeit a little bit woozy, and although she avoided suffering a concussion, she sat the rest of the game on the bench for precautionary reasons.
It was a bit of a scary moment for Pierson, which still has its sights set on a Long Island Class C Championship — to be played this Monday, March 9, against East Rockaway at Newfield High School in Selden at 4:30 p.m. A win in that game would send the Lady Whalers to the Regional Finals nearly a week later and a victory away from reaching the state tournament.
Eventually, with just under two minutes remaining in the game and his team trailing by about 10 points, head coach John “Woody” Kneeland conceded the game to Westhampton Beach by clearing his bench. Eventually, the Lady ’Canes went on to win, 49-34.
“They played hard — we didn’t execute today — but they played hard,” Kneeland said. “They left it out there, sometimes more than maybe I wanted them to because I don’t want to be losing players for the next game. I really wanted them to go after it today, but I really wanted them to keep in mind that we have bigger fish to fry.”
It was Dryden who actually pushed Pierson to take an early lead to start the game, but had to come out due to early foul trouble, picking up Pierson’s first two fouls and having to sit on the bench for the rest of the first quarter. From that point forward,Westhampton Beach took advantage of Dryden not being around to patrol underneath the basket maintained what was an eight to nine point lead for most of the game. Back-to-back three-pointers by Giles and a steal and layup by Grace Perello brought the Lady Whalers within four of the Lady ’Canes’ lead at 30-26 in the third, but that was as close as they would get. Giles led Pierson with 13 points.
Kneeland said the team fell back into some old habits, such as “self-inflicted turnovers.”
“We have some control over those things. Unfortunately they showed their head today,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if it was nerves. They’ve been pretty confident the way they’ve been playing lately, so I’m not really concerned about it. But I just think they didn’t pull it together today.”
Kneeland said that he and whichever players wanted to join him went and scouted East Rockaway on Monday as it plays its B/C Qualifier in its county tournament. As the week progresses, Kneeland said he’ll ramp up things in practice in lead up to the all important Long Island Championship.
“We’ll ease back into it, things are going to look more intense as we get closer,” he said. “We have been throwing bits of East Rockaway into our practices over the last week. Execution of that game plan is the most important thing right now.”