The first win is always nice, even if it comes after three losses.
No one had to tell that to the Rocky Point Eagles, who happily basked in the glow of their first win of the high school girls basketball season on Saturday. The manner in which it was achieved — a fourth-quarter comeback — might have added to their satisfaction.
Shannon Gradotzke canned 6 of 6 free throws as Rocky Point closed out the non-league game on a 12-0 run for a 37-26 result against the host Southold Clippers. That should have made for a pleasant bus ride home for the Eagles.
“It feels good,” Rocky Point’s freshman point guard, Annie Kennedy, said. “We were getting tired of being a team that doesn’t celebrate at the end, and the celebration really [drove] us here. We wanted to be the team on the other end of the game.”
Both teams entered the contest in similar situations. They were both winless (Southold had lost all three of its previous games), they were both short on experience, and they were both relying on young players. At one point, Southold had five sophomores on the court.
Gradotzke is the only senior on a League V Rocky Point team that has four freshmen. Southold, a League VIII team, played only two players who were at the varsity level last season, Lauren Ficurilli and Sarah Smith. (A third returning player, Melissa Rogers, missed the game because of illness).
Judging by early-season results, wins could be hard for both teams to come by. In the meantime, their coaches are focusing on their teams making progress and are not as concerned about what the scoreboard says.
“Obviously we’re out here to win and compete, but we’re really out here to get better,” Southold Coach Dennis Reilly said. “You got to be realistic about where we are.”
Rocky Point and Southold are in similar boats, and they proved to be a good match for each other. They traded leads six times. Both teams had their shooting struggles from the floor (Rocky Point shot 28.9 percent and Southold came in at 26.8 percent). They had 24 turnovers apiece.
“We’re just trying to win, but as long as we have a good game, whether we win or lose, there’s nothing we really can do about it,” said Sydney Campbell, Southold’s sophomore guard who had a team-leading 10 points before fouling out with 24.6 seconds left.
Southold hit a frigid streak in the fourth quarter, making only 1 of 9 field-goal attempts and committing some costly turnovers at inopportune times.
After Smith hit a basket to give Southold its final lead at 26-25, Reagan Lynch ignited Rocky Point’s game-ending run with a three-point shot she banked in off the backboard. The Eagles expanded their lead from that point on. The 11-point difference in the final score was the largest margin of the game.
“Certainly, winning a game like this helps our confidence,” Rocky Point Coach Bob Kiernan said. “We’re going to take some lumps, but hopefully we’ll get better each day at practice and each game will provide some opportunities for us to learn.”
Gradotzke, Rocky Point’s senior captain, finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, both game-high figures. She shot 9 of 10 from the free-throw line. The Eagles also received 12 points, nine rebounds and five steals from Kennedy.
In Rogers’ absence, Nicole Busso did a good job on the boards, grabbing 10 rebounds for the Clippers.
“It was a tough loss,” Campbell said. “We just got a little flustered and started throwing the ball away, and none of our shots were sinking in the end. We were just rushing a little too much.”
She said the game “wasn’t one of our best. It wasn’t, by far, one of our worst. We got off to a good start and we just kind of fell apart in the end.”
Southold adds this loss to setbacks against the Hauppauge Eagles, Westhampton Beach Hurricanes and Pierson/Bridgehampton Whalers.
Reilly said that while he sees overall growth in Southold’s game on both ends of the court, there are moments when bad play rears its ugly head. “We have a three- or four-minute lapse in each half where we revert to our old ways and junior-high habits and JV habits that just don’t cut it at the varsity level,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rocky Point persevered, worked at it, and earned Win No. 1.
“It was nerve-wracking, but we came through,” Kennedy said. “I think we just wanted it really bad. We just wanted to win a game and celebrate. It’s Saturday. We wanted to have a good Saturday night.”