WHALERS 44, FIRST SETTLERS 40
It’s doubtful that anyone could fully appreciate how hard it was for Michaela Christman to watch Southold’s girls basketball team complete one of its greatest seasons ever last year — except Michaela Christman.
The team won the League VIII championship, a Suffolk County crown, its first Long Island championship since 2002, and reached a Southeast Regional final, falling one win shy of a place in the New York State final four. Christman saw much of it, as much as she could take. It wasn’t easy for her.
“Some of the time I needed a break,” she said. “It was kind of hard to watch.”
What was hard about it was being a spectator and not a player. Christman had played in the first few games of that season before her right knee decided it had other plans for her. A torn anterior cruciate ligament put an early end to Christman’s junior season. She underwent surgery, physical rehabilitation, and looked ahead to her senior season in 2012-13.
Christman undoubtedly missed playing. Southold senior Nicole Busso recalled: “Every single game she texted me: ‘How’s it going? What’s the game? What’s the score?’ She is a true basketball player.”
Now Christman, the player, is making up for lost time.
“She worked hard and she came back,” Southold coach Joe Read said. “She plays strong. She’s a tough kid. She has a beautiful shot.”
Christman plays with a brace around her right knee, which after a 44-40 loss to Pierson/Bridgehampton on Thursday night she said was “sore, but it’s fine.”
Christman can play guard or forward. She has been used primarily as a post player lately, with forward Melissa Rogers sitting out her fourth straight game Thursday with an ailing knee and watching from the official scorer’s table. That sounds all-too familiar to Christman, who said, “I know what Melissa is going through right now.”
The First Settlers are grateful to have a healthy Christman on the court again.
“It’s huge having Michaela right now,” Busso said. “I don’t know where we would be [without her]. She’s a huge help down low. She really does everything.”
Christman has rejoined Busso, Rogers and the team’s two other seniors, Sydney Campbell and Carley Staples. That fivesome has been playing together since they were 12, and they have a lot to play for this season. Southold is contending for the league title again, but the upset it suffered at the hands of Pierson/Bridgehampton in Sag Harbor didn’t help. At the start of the day, the First Settlers were tied for first place with The Stony Brook School.
Pierson/Bridgehampton (9-8, 7-4), which may meet Southold (9-5, 8-2) in the playoffs, secured what its first-year coach, Kevin Barron, said may have been the team’s “sweetest” win in two years. When the game ended, the happy Whalers hopped around the court, hugging each other and screaming over their well-earned triumph in a hard-fought, scrappy affair that didn’t see many easy baskets for either side.
Pierson/Bridgehampton, which honored its eight seniors during an emotional pregame Senior Night ceremony, saw three of those seniors score critical points down the stretch. Emily Hinz made a basket despite being fouled by Busso, who fouled out on the play, to snap a 39-39 tie with 43.9 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. A free throw by Abby Ruiz and two more foul shots by Sydnee McKie made it a 44-39 game with 10.1 seconds left.
Kasey Gilbride and Ruiz led Pierson/Bridgehampton with 9 points apiece. Bridget Canavan added 8 points and 11 rebounds.
Busso turned in a tremendous effort, finishing with 12 points, 13 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. Abby Scharadin played well, too, for Southold, producing 9 points.
Pierson/Bridgehampton scored the first 9 points of the third quarter — including three straight baskets by Meg Evjen for her only 6 points — to build a 28-17 lead. But Southold gradually whittled away at the lead, tying the score at 34-34, 35-35 and 39-39.
Shooting troubles spelled Southold’s doom, though, especially in the first three quarters when the First Settlers shot 9 of 32 from the field.
Southold was undoubtedly feeling the affects of a hard-played game the day before when it defeated Port Jefferson. That may partly explain why Pierson/Bridgehampton outrebounded the First Settlers, 43-28, and pulled down 23 offensive boards.
“This team loves playing Southold,” Barron said. “It’s always a competitive game, and then on top of that, it’s Senior Night for us. The girls have had this game circled all year. I told them before the game, ‘Show the rest of the league that we’re for real.’ ”