SOUTHEAST REGION CLASS C FINAL | STATESWOMEN 66, FIRST SETTLERS 25
It could have been seen as a bad omen that during a practice in advance of the Southeast Region Class C girls basketball final, Southold’s first-string point guard, Sydney Campbell, rolled an ankle after stepping on a teammate’s foot during a drill. The First Settlers needed everything they had, and then some, if they were to upset powerhouse John A. Coleman Catholic.
With Campbell using crutches to get to her seat on the bench, sophomore Justina Babcock got the start at point guard. As it turned out, it looked like even Campbell’s presence on the court would not have come close to making enough of a difference to produce a different result.
Just look at what Southold was facing in Coleman: a state champion in two of the past three years at the Class D level; the top-ranked Class C team in the state, along with Harpursville, according to the New York State Sportswriters Association rankings through Feb. 26; a team with a proud tradition of championships.
“We knew,” Southold guard Lauren Ficurilli said. “We had an idea of what we were coming up against.”
Coleman has high standards and routinely aims high in its goals. This season was no different, with the Stateswomen having lost only one player from their state champion team of last year.
“We talk about getting to the state championship every year,” said Coleman coach Guy Leonard.
Coleman will get a chance to pick up another state trophy. The Stateswomen saw to that by routing Southold, 66-25, on Saturday at Farmingdale State College, claiming its fifth straight regional title, and running its record to 23-0. Coleman, in its first season as a Class C team, will once again be part of a state final four. It will play either Tupper Lake or Hoosic Valley in a state semifinal next Saturday afternoon at Hudson Valley County Community College in Troy.
“It’s an amazing feeling, just knowing that we’re back there again,” said Coleman senior guard Makenzie Burud, who has received a scholarship to play NCAA Division II ball for St. Michael’s College (Vt.).
Coleman has never had an undefeated season. Maybe this is the season it does it. The Stateswomen, who have gone 22-2 twice and 20-2 twice, set a school record for the most wins in a season with their victory on Saturday.
“I shouldn’t say we expected it, but we have a high standard and we’re trying to stay with it,” Leonard said. “When the run ends, who knows?”
Coleman has embraced its new challenge this season as a Class C team. As the smallest team in its league, it continually played against Class A and B squads. It has even knocked off some Class AA teams. Leonard said Coleman is the best team in Section IX, regardless of class. It’s a team that is able to adapt to the opposition.
“Yeah, it’s a special group, sure,” Leonard said of his players. “I have a good mix of kids. It’s a very flexible unit. I have size, I have quickness, I have shooters. We can match up and play ball against pretty much any type” of team.
Including Southold (16-7).
The First Settlers, who were ranked 17th in the NYSSA poll, had their hands full. Coleman stamped its imprint on the game from the start, forging an 11-2 lead, with 8 of those points coming from Burud.
“When we came out on the floor, it didn’t matter how good they were,” Southold guard Carley Staples said. “We just wanted to put everything on the floor, no matter what the score was, just put everything out there and play hard.”
Although Babcock banked in a runner for the game-opening basket, Coleman scored the next 15 points. It wasn’t until a Melissa Rogers basket with 1 minute 44 seconds to go in the first quarter that Southold ended that spell.
But then Coleman really started distancing itself from Southold on the strength of a 12-2 spurt that made it 29-8. The First Settlers, who committed 20 turnovers in the first half, didn’t reach double figures in points until Kelly Bosco hit a shot with about a minute left in the first half. But a hoop by Emily Curley and two free throws by her twin sister Nicole Curley padded the Coleman lead to 35-10 by halftime.
A 25-2 run made it 56-12 early in the fourth quarter.
Coleman outrebounded Southold by 36-18 and forced the First Settlers into making 34 turnovers.
Nine Stateswomen scored, led by Burud with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals. Kate Davis and Nicole Curley had 10 points apiece. Laren Melville and Shannon Gildea added 9 points each.
“It’s all balanced scoring,” said Burud.
Southold’s numbers were less impressive. Sarah Manfredi, who had sat out much of the season with an injury, led the team with 5 points.
With 3:32 remaining in the game, Ficurilli was called to the bench for the last time. Hugs and tears followed. The loss marked the end of her high school career as well as that of the team’s two other seniors, Bosco and Manfredi.
Southold can take satisfaction from a run that produced a Suffolk County League VIII title as well as its first Long Island crown since 2002 when it was a Class D team, according to coach Katie Hennes.
“This has been absolutely amazing,” Hennes said. “It’s been great. It’s been surreal and it’s been wonderful.”
Now it’s over. A season the First Settlers never wanted to end has ended.