FIRST SETTLERS 48, COSMOS 23
Lauren Ficurilli had been counting down the weeks, the days, the hours, even the minutes until she was able to return to the basketball court. Her right ankle had been ailing her, but not being able to play was killing her.
“I can’t even begin to describe how hard it was,” she said.
The Southold guard/forward sprained her right ankle in a game against Mattituck on Dec. 13. It cost her six weeks and eight games of her senior season. No wonder the anxious Ficurilli was eager to rejoin her teammates on the Southold High School court Monday night, rejoining the team just in time to celebrate Southold clinching a playoff berth for the fourth successive year.
The timing made for good theater.
First-place Southold (7-5, 6-0) welcomed Ficurilli back in the fold in style, completing the first half of its Suffolk County League VIII season with its fifth straight win, a 48-23 defeat of The Ross School.
“We kind of came in here hoping for a lot,” Southold guard Sydney Campbell said. “… We thought that if we put our minds to it, we could accomplish anything, and just the fact that we’re 6 and 0 [in league play] goes to show how much heart we do have.”
It’s also quite impressive that Southold had maintained its first-place standing without the aid of Ficurilli, one of the team’s top players, for a major chunk of the season.
“It just proves that one person doesn’t make a team and that we are a family,” Ficurilli said. “The fact that we’re undefeated now, I think that says a lot about us and how hard we’ve been working, and that’s something to be proud of.”
But with the good news comes some bad news. Southold’s two other seniors, Sarah Manfredi and Kelly Bosco, are out of uniform. “The curse of the seniors I call it,” said Southold coach Amanda Barrilo.
Manfredi, one of the players who helped fill the void in Ficurilli’s absence, watched Monday’s game from the official scorer’s table. She is out for the rest of the season with a fractured foot, said Barrilo. Bosco is recovering from eye surgery. It is hoped she will return to the team in a week.
Ficurilli, looking to make up for lost time, said she was pumped up for Monday’s game. It showed in her play, too. But, even when game time arrived, Ficurilli still had some more waiting to do. She wasn’t in the starting lineup. Ficurilli finally came in off the bench, entering the game at the start of the second quarter. Within seconds, she had an immediate impact on the game, tying up a Ross player and forcing a held-ball call.
Ficurilli played about 16 minutes. She didn’t show any signs of rust, turning in an all-around game with 8 points, 9 steals, 6 rebounds and 2 assists.
“We have Lauren back,” Campbell said. “It’s obviously a great help. We all work together really well, so just to have that person on the court, with her personality, it really helps. … Her skills are definitely needed.”
No one has to tell Barrilo how much Ficurilli means to the team.
“It’s so nice to have her back,” the coach said. “The spirit of the team was up having her back. It makes a big difference. She’s a true leader on the team, and she’s a girl that goes out there and just will play as hard as she possibly can.”
A Ficurilli putback capped a 15-2 Southold run bridging the second and third quarters, leaving the First Settlers with a 30-13 lead.
Ross’ 0-8 record (0-7 in the league) is somewhat deceiving. The Cosmos were more competitive than their record might lead one to expect, but they still had trouble in areas. Southold attempted 24 field goals in the second quarter, one more than Ross attempted for the entire game. In fact, Southold put up a staggering 84 shots from the field, sinking 21 of them. The First Settlers also dominated the offensive boards, 31-7, and committed 24 less turnovers than Ross did.
“We’re a little snakebit,” Ross coach Howard Brown said. “We’ve had several close games. You hear a lot of coaches say this, we’re maybe one or two players away. We play hard, we battle, we have some opportunities. We just can’t seem to get over the hump.”
Southold also had 10 points from Abby Scharadin and 9 from Melissa Rogers. Nicole Busso registered 8 points and 9 rebounds.
Emma Betuel scored 9 points for Ross.
With the playoffs already secured, the next challenge for Southold is to claim its first league championship since 2005. Its next game, at home against second-place Shelter Island (7-3, 5-1) and its big player, Kelsey McGayhey, on Thursday night, could go a long way toward determining the course of the league title chase. Southold has already defeated the Indians twice this season, by 14 and 10 points.
“That’s going to be interesting,” Campbell said of the third meeting between the teams. “This is an intense game. They’re going to come, trying to win; we’re going to come, trying to win, and we’ll see what happens.”
For Ficurilli, securing a playoff berth has extended her high school career by at least one more game, and she sounded grateful for that. “It’s probably one of the most important things right now,” she said, “and now that we’ve done that, we can only hope to get the league title, and to be a part of something special like that, that’s all I could really ask for for my last year.”