Dennis Case is a sharp observer of the Suffolk County girls basketball scene, not to mention a knowledgeable coach. When the veteran Pierson/Bridgehampton coach was asked after a loss last month to Southold what makes the First Settlers a successful team, he had an insightful answer ready.
“They got a little bit of everything,” Case said. “They got size, shooting. They got good power girls. They have good subs. They have more than just five girls.”
Case was right on the mark in his analysis.
As its 12-0 league record indicated, Southold was the best team — and the most complete team — in Suffolk County League VIII this season. Having stated that, it must be noted that League VIII was a weak league in 2011-12. That, of course, is beyond Southold’s control. The First Settlers could only play the teams on their schedule.
League VIII surely did them no favors in preparation for the playoffs, though. So, it is a testament to Southold that it finds itself in this position: a Suffolk Class C champion with a 15-6 record and a March 7 date to play Nassau County champion Friends Academy (6-11) in a Southeast Region semifinal at Farmingdale State College. It is the last team from the Town of Southold still standing in this winter sports season.
“People think that after Riverhead, Long Island ends,” Southold coach Katie Hennes said. “This is a big opportunity for North Fork basketball.”
The First Settlers are still playing for a reason.
Southold is not the sort of team that’s going to fill the crowd with oohs and ahhs. It’s not the sort of team that plays with flash. It’s not the sort of team that relies on a star.
But that’s the point. Southold has advanced this far because it is a good team. As Case said, it has the pieces in place. Melissa Rogers and Nicole Busso can score points in the paint and pile up the rebounds. Sydney Campbell is a sure-handed point guard and possibly the team’s best pure outside shooter. Lauren Ficurilli, the team’s only senior aside from Kelly Bosco, is a fine all-around player who always seems to be making things happen.
And then there are players who are positive contributors coming off the bench, like sophomores Abby Scharadin and Justina Babcock, a 5-foot-3 point guard who does a nice job keeping things under control when Campbell needs a breather.
“This is one of the best seasons of my life,” said Rogers, who hurt her left wrist Saturday, but isn’t expecting that to prevent her from practicing later this week. “It’s really so much fun to play with these girls, to come out every day and have so much fun doing what we love to do.”
Southold seems to have done well in the coaching department, too. Its rookie coach, Amanda Barrilo, left the team late in the regular season to accept a job in North Carolina, but she has left the First Settlers in the capable hands of Southold’s junior varsity coach, Hennes.
It has all added up to a team Southold can be proud of.
Under the guidance of Hennes, a former St. Joseph’s College player, the First Settlers don’t seem to have missed a beat. Southold rolled over Case’s Pierson/Bridgehampton team in the county final and beat Shelter Island in the Suffolk Class C-D final. That was before Saturday when Southold was run over by Southampton, 56-21, in the Suffolk Class B-C-D final. Southold hung tough for a quarter and a half before speedy Southampton distanced itself.
The three playoff games at St. Joseph’s College gave Southold preparation for Friends Academy.
“We have a chance to do something special,” Ficurilli said. “I know all the girls are excited. Just making it this far is an accomplishment.”
Hennes has firsthand experience that helps her understand what her players are going through as they sit two wins away from an invitation to Troy for the New York State final four. She played for Sachem when it pulled to within one win of a final four. She knows what’s it’s like to play in a county final in front of a large crowd.
“I tell these girls, ‘You might never get this again,’ ” Hennes said. “Some of these girls may or may not go on to play college basketball, but these are things you have to cherish, and this is what athletes dream of.”