Gylia Dryden has picked the perfect time to peak.
The Bridgehampton junior had a career game on Tuesday evening, scoring a game-high 18 points in leading the Pierson/Bridgehampton girls basketball team to a 47-32 drubbing of Port Jefferson in the B/C/D Qualifier of the Section XI Tournament at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. Other statistics weren’t officially tallied, but “Gigi,” as she’s known to family and friends, also had numerous rebounds and blocks and was a complete presence on the floor throughout the night and a big part of how the Lady Whalers were able to dismantle the League VII and Suffolk County Class B Champion Lady Royals, whom they lost to twice during the regular season.
Pierson advances to the Small School Championship where it will play Class A Champion Westhampton Beach back at St. Joe’s this Saturday, February 29, at 5 p.m. And regardless of whether they win or lose that game, the Lady Whalers still have the Long Island ‘C’ Championship to play against East Rockaway on March 9 at 4:30 p.m. at Newfield High School in Selden.
Pierson head coach John “Woody” Kneeland said he loved what he saw from Dryden throughout the past week or so in practice and sent her a text Monday night that said if she could give him at least 75 percent of what she did in practice the team would be just fine, and she did.
“It was just a matter of working hard in practice, and I just came out of my volleyball season so I was little out of the game, but once I got into it I just kept it up and kept dominating,” Dryden said. “We lost to Port Jeff twice and we really, really just wanted to win this so I just wanted to keep working hard and keep that up so I can do well in the game. Just goes to show that if you keep up the good work, and play like we did tonight, we can dominate any team that comes in our way. It’s just a matter of staying together and working together as a team and keeping your head up.”
Pierson led Port Jeff all game but had a slim 21-14 lead at halftime that it was able to increase quite a bit at the start of the second half. Senior Chastin Giles hit a jump shot from the free-throw line that put the Lady Whalers up 30-16 with 2:30 remaining in the third quarter. Port Jeff was sitting on just 16 points nearly three quarters of the way into the game, but it started to go on a little run at the end of the third and into the fourth. A three by junior Evelyn Walker cut Pierson’s lead into single digits just over 30 seconds into the fourth, then sophomore Abigail Rolfe made a basket and another three by Walker made a five-point game at 35-30 with 5:20 remaining in the game, but that was as close as Port Jeff would get.
Pierson went on a 10-0 run that basically closed the game out. Junior Grace Perello, who finished with 11 points, scored the teams first six points during that run, and Dryden, as she did throughout the game, came up big in that time span as well. She had three blocks on one offensive sequence alone, denying any Port Jeff defenders that took her on in the paint, and she also scored a few baskets during the run as well. The finishing touch came off a direct inbounds pass from sophomore Sofia Mancino, where Dryden caught the pass, set herself, scored on a layup and was fouled. She made her ensuing free throw to make it a 46-30 game.
Giles normally paces the offense each night, but she only had four points on Tuesday and was quite content with that. All of Pierson’s starters scored, and with Dryden finding her game, Giles said, if it only takes a single-digit performance from herself for the team to win, so be it. She was pretty excited about Dryden’s newfound game.
“Oh my God, her improvement since the first day she came in, she just has gotten insanely confident,” Giles said. “Normally you’d see her get the ball and she didn’t know what to do with it, the ball would drop. Now she’s turning, facing, taking people to the basket, or kicking it out. Shes’ gotten a lot smarter.
“I think it was a confidence thing,” she added. “She’s blocking people. Even the Mattituck game we played in the last game of the season, she just killed it. That’s what we need. We need a good, big post player that just dominates on rebounds, and there’s nothing she really can’t do.”
Kneeland loved what he saw from his team overall, but what he liked most was the simple fact that for the past two games now, a 51-40 victory at Mattituck in the regular season finale back on February 5 and on Tuesday night, the team has executed his game plan.
“When they really buy in, good things happen,” he said. “I didn’t know if we could win this game or not. I just said, if you buy in, good things will come from it. Whether it’s a victory or not, we’ll be a better team, and I’ll take that because we still have somebody to play that can eliminate us.”
Kneeland said prior to Westhampton Beach playing West Babylon for the ‘A’ title on Tuesday night that he was confident his team would be playing the Lady Hurricanes on Saturday night and he was proved correct. The Lady ’Canes defeated the Lady Eagles in what was a hard-fought 38-36 victory. Kneeland thinks the world of Westhampton Beach. He really likes how aggressive and focused it plays on defense, and having played and lost to the Lady ’Canes in a nonleague game earlier in the season, he said Saturday’s game will be another stepping stone in getting his team ready for the Long Island Championship.
“It’s just good to play somebody,” he said. “It’s been a long week.”