Steep Climb for Pierson Teams as Playoffs Arrive

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Pierson's Katie Kneeland drives to the hoop against Mercy on Thursday. Michael Heller photo

The Pierson boys and girls basketball teams scrapped their ways into the playoffs this year, but their biggest challenges of the season could lie ahead.

The Lady Whalers will open the Class C playoffs with an outbracket game against Stony Brook on Wednesday, February 14, with the winner advancing to play top-seeded Mercy on Monday at Suffolk County Community College in Selden at 4 p.m.

The Pierson boys earned a four seed in Class C and will host fifth-ranked Port Jefferson in the second half of a Valentine’s Day playoff doubleheader on Wednesday night. Top-seeded and undefeated League VIII champion Greenport will host the winner in a semifinal on Friday, February 16, at 5 p.m.

Also in Class C, Mercy, which is the third seed, will take on Southold on Wednesday with the winner from that game advancing to play at Stony Brook on Friday. Two teams will advance from the semifinal round to play for a county championship on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at Suffolk Community College in Selden.

Pierson’s Chastin Giles shoots for two of her 17 points against Mercy. Michael Heller photo

Lady Whalers Confident Going In

If the Pierson/Bridgehampton girls team advances to Monday’s county final, they will find a familiar opponent in Mercy, which dropped just two games in League VII this year, both to Mattituck, which won the league title with a perfect 14-0 record. The Lady Whalers, who finished fourth with an 8-6 mark, nearly took down Mercy in the regular-season finale on Thursday, February 8, but ultimately lost to the visiting Lady Monarchs, 68-59.

After a huge second-quarter surge, Pierson led Mercy by six at halftime. Led by senior Melina Santacroce, who finished with a game-high 27 points, the Lady Monarchs climbed back into the game and led by a point going into the fourth quarter, when they closed things out with a 25-18 run.

Pierson coach Kevin Barron said his team suffered a defensive breakdown in the second half that ultimately was the turning point of the game.

“We really had a bad second half in terms of defense,” Barron said. “I think we were focused on stopping one player and we forgot about stopping the other players. It was layups left and right.”

Chastin Giles, who transferred to Pierson after playing for Mercy as a freshman last season, led the Lady Whalers against her former team with 17 points. Katie Kneeland had 15 and Sophia Bitis scored 11. As a team, Pierson’s 59 points is a number Barron can live with.

“We know we can score, and if you score that much, it’s just a matter of playing defense,” Barron said after a Saturday scrimmage against Mt. Sinai, the top-seeded team in Class A, which he called very encouraging. “We know what we have to fix. We learned a lot from this scrimmage. The girls gained a lot of confidence from that and it was nice to see.”

Pierson senior Will Martin watched from the bench against Bridgehampton with an injured right knee.

Boys Will Play Without Martin

As if going up against Port Jefferson and, possibly, Greenport wasn’t daunting enough, the Pierson boys team will do so without senior Will Martin, who just days after scoring his 1,000th career point, suffered a knee injury that has ended both his season and Pierson career. Martin had surgery on a torn meniscus in his right knee this week and will be a spectator the rest of the way.

In his absence, sophomore Henry Brooks has added a spark on the offensive end, averaging 20 points in a pair of blowout victories over Smithtown Christian (81-56 on February 7) and the Ross School (73-44 on February 9) to close out the regular season for Pierson, which finished in second place with a 9-3 record in League VIII. Senior Tom Brooks, Henry’s older brother, also has stepped up his scoring in the absence of Martin, and senior E.J. Burke posted double-doubles in terms of scoring and rebounds in both of the last two games.

“We’re a no-excuse team,” head coach Hank Katz said following the loss of Martin, who he called a “tough kid with a lot of options” for the future, including the possibility of playing college basketball. “Will was terrific, we were clearly a better team when you have a guy who averages 25 points per game. But we don’t make excuses and we’re going to go about our business of playing hard.”

Katz said Greenport, which cruised to a perfect 12-0 league record and an average margin of victory of 53.5 points, is extremely athletic with two or three players who can put up big games on any given night. The one beacon of hope for the Whalers is they came the closest in league play to Greenport in terms of point differential in a single game, a 71-48 victory for the Porters on January 10.

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Gavin Menu is the sports editor, advertising director and co-publisher of The Sag Harbor Express and Express Magazine. Reach him at gmenu@sagharborexpress.com.