Clippers hand Pierson/Bridgehampton its first league loss

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | From the left, Southold's Michaela Christman, Pierson/Bridgehampton's Sami James, Southold's Nicole Busso and Pierson/Bridgehampton's Kaci Koehne jostled for the ball.

As far as candidates to be the first high school girls basketball team to hand the first-place Pierson/Bridgehampton Whalers a league loss this season, the Southold Clippers would not have been the most obvious choice. For one thing, the Clippers are a young squad, with six sophomores, three juniors and three seniors. For another, when these teams met in Sag Harbor on Dec. 17, the Whalers won by 16 points.

Monday’s rematch was another story, though.

Melissa Rogers scored nine of Southold’s last 13 points as the Clippers handed Pierson/Bridgehampton its first league defeat of the season. Rogers’ 15 points led Southold to a 40-38 triumph in the Suffolk County League VIII game over the visiting Whalers, who saw a six-game winning streak snapped. If the Clippers, who brought their record to 6-6, 4-3 in the league, win two of their final five regular-season games, they would book themselves a playoff ticket.

“I think we’re on Cloud Nine right now, and we’re just ready to go,” Southold guard Sydney Campbell said. “It’s a great boost.”

Southold Coach Dennis Reilly said it was, by far, his team’s best win of the season. “It’s a great accomplishment for the girls,” he said. “This, hopefully, is a steppingstone to finish out our league season strong, and that’s all we can ask.”

Rogers converted a three-point play when she banked in an off-balance shot while being fouled and then sank the accompanying free throw for a 39-34 Southold lead with 1 minute 48 seconds left to play.

Pierson/Bridgehampton, which saw its record go to 6-7, 6-1 in league play, then pulled to within one point after a basket by Sarah Barrett and two foul shots by Barrett, but Rogers made a free throw with 24.6 seconds remaining for the final margin. The Whalers managed two field-goal attempts in the waning seconds, but were unable to avoid the defeat.

“We were flat,” Pierson/Bridgehampton Coach Dennis Case said. “There was a period of time in the third and the fourth quarter where we went flat, and that happens.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Kaci Koehne of Pierson/Bridgehampton had Melissa Rogers' right arm around her neck and Sarah Smith's right hand in her face.

Case said his players must “make a full commitment the rest of the year if they want to win this league.”

The result dropped the Whalers into a first-place tie with The Stony Brook School Bears, who were 7-4, 6-1 heading into Tuesday’s games. Stony Brook won the league championship the past five years.

Case credited Southold’s triangle-and-two defense for putting the reins on his top two scoring threats, Barrett and Sami James. Barrett scored 11 points (to go with six assists) and James had six points. But Amanda Busiello, a senior guard who is averaging about six points per game, helped fill the void. She posted a career-high 17 points, all in the first three quarters. Busiello, who believes she took only two shots in the final period, said, “I didn’t really get the ball much in the fourth quarter.”

Southold trailed by as many as eight points after back-to-back baskets by Busiello made it 34-26 late in the third quarter. Then the Clippers scored the next 13 points. Although a few turnovers down the stretch and difficulty grabbing rebounds made things a little dicey for the Clippers near the end, they got the result they were looking for.

“This is a big one,” Rogers said. “We didn’t put out our best effort the last time versus Pierson, and this time we really showed our heart, what we’re really about and how good we are.”

Nicole Busso, who had eight points and eight rebounds for the Clippers, said: “It wasn’t easy, no, it wasn’t. It was a thrill. Games like this are what we play for.”

Southold turned the ball over eight more times than Pierson/Bridgehampton and had five less rebounds, yet the Whalers’ field-goal shooting down the stretch betrayed them. They hit only 1 of their last 14 shots from the field.

“I think it’s like more of a wakeup call to the team,” Busiello said. “It’s a little surprising that that happened. The next game we’ll come back.”

When a reporter suggested that it might be only a small bump in the road toward their title chase, Busiello said, “Hopefully that’s the only bump we have.”

After the game, Reilly received congratulations from fans and school personnel. What does this victory do for his players?

“I think it gives them the confidence that they have the ability to compete with the top teams in our league, and I think that was something that was suspect the first six games,” he said. “You’re not expected to win them all, but you got to win your home games, especially in league play.”

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