STONY BROOK — On several occasions during this high school girls basketball season, the Southold First Settlers have been confounded by a recurring problem. They would come out with a strong first half, then somehow fall flat on their collective faces in the third quarter.
The Suffolk County Class C semifinals played a familiar tune and then some on Saturday. After battling The Stony Brook School Bears evenly in the opening half, the First Settlers scored only one point in the third quarter and but five points in the final period en route to a 40-21 loss.
Entering the second half, the No. 4 First Settlers looked like they were ready to duplicate their superb performance in a Valentine’s Day defeat to the Bears. Despite being tied at 15-15, they were outscored, 11-1, in the third quarter.
The top-seeded Bears never looked back and booked a place with the Pierson/Bridgehampton the county final on Tuesday.
“That’s been our Achilles’ heel all year long,” Southold Coach Dennis Reilly said. “Today we put up one point. We’ve had four points, five points. That’s been the difference in our games. We’ve been in a lot of games in the first half. We come out in the third quarter and for whatever reason we can’t find the basket. It’s really tough to score points.”
Senior guard Sarah Smith, who scored 20 points in Southold’s 49-41 overtime loss to Stony Brook on Feb. 14, was optimistic the First Settlers (7-11) could overcome the Bears (13-5) in the second meeting between the two teams in six days.
“We played great,” she said. “Monday we lost in overtime and I was hoping we would have a good victory, but …”
The First Settlers denied the hosts a basket for the opening 11 minutes 29 seconds until seventh-grader Adrian Odom fired home a three-pointer for a 9-8 lead midway through the second quarter. The Bears stayed within striking range by converting 6 of 10 foul shots.
But the energy the First Settlers expended in the opening 16 minutes caught up with them. It didn’t help that Southold was missing two starters — Melissa Rogers (flu) and guard Sydney Campbell (ankle injury).
“Being a little shorthanded, missing a couple of our starters really hurt us in the second half,” Reilly said. “Our rotation, the way they played defense, was tough to keep it throughout an entire game. The girls really left everything out on the court on the defensive end, especially the first half.
“Not having our normal rotation to give girls a rest hurt us in the second half, especially on the offensive end. Using up all that energy defensively to stop Brannon Burke and Jessica Winston took its toll. They’re relentless on offense. They came through in the second half and we weren’t able to match them.”
Smith was the key to Southold’s attack. After converting two three-point shots to end the first half with 10 points, she went dry in the final half.
“My shots weren’t falling in the third quarter,” she said. “Nobody’s shots were falling in the third quarter.”
Winston (eight points, seven assists) shut down Smith in the second half.
“No open looks,” Stony Brook Coach Amy Helm said. “I was really pleased she stepped up. She had a great defensive effort for us.”
Forward Nicole Busso scored the lone point in the quarter on a foul shot.
While the First Settlers fired blanks, Odom (10 points, nine rebounds) downed three baskets during the third period, including one of her two three-pointers to grab a 26-10 advantage.
“She’s starting to make teams pay for a triangle-and-two [defense],” Helm said.
Sophomore forward Keara Vancol, who replaced star Natalie Istrati as a starter, scored one point, but hauled down 23 rebounds. Istrati did see a few minutes of action.
Lauren Ficurilli scored all five of Southold’s points in the fourth quarter while Burke (seven rebounds) broke loose for 10 of her 20 points. The Bears outscored the First Settlers in the period, 14-5.
“It’s just a matter of who can adjust,” Reilly said. “That’s a big thing at this time of the year — adjustments. We were able to handle the adjustments in the first half. The girls did a great job adjusting to their offense. The second half, we couldn’t keep pace with them.”