02/18/14 8:36pm
02/18/2014 8:36 PM
Southold/Greenport's Justina Babcock, left, and Pierson/Bridgehampton's Kasey Gilbride both get a hand on the ball. (Garret Meade photo)

Southold/Greenport’s Justina Babcock, left, and Pierson/Bridgehampton’s Kasey Gilbride both get a hand on the ball during the county Class C final in Northport. (Garret Meade photo)

SUFFOLK COUNTY CLASS C FINAL | WHALERS 54, CLIPPERS 49

The Southold/Greenport Clippers were almost there, and that is what made their ending so painful.

After leading for most of the way, the Clippers were just nipped at the finish line. For Pierson/Bridgehampton, it was the best way to win; for Southold/Greenport, it was the worst way to lose. (more…)

02/06/14 10:48pm
02/06/2014 10:48 PM

Garret Meade photo | One of Southold/Greenport’s seven seniors, Justina Babcock, looks for room to shoot as Stony Brook’s Annie Skorobohaty blocks her path.

CLIPPERS 73, BEARS 39

The seven seniors on the Southold/Greenport girls basketball team knew that, regardless of the outcome, Thursday’s game would be the last they will have played in the Southold High School gym. What they didn’t want, however, was for it to be the last game of their high school careers. (more…)

12/30/13 2:18pm
12/30/2013 2:18 PM
DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Southold/Greenport's Toni Esposito rounds Mount Sinai's Olivia Williams during Monday's non-league game.

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Southold/Greenport’s Toni Esposito rounds Mount Sinai’s Olivia Williams during Monday’s non-league game.

MUSTANGS 69, CLIPPERS 28

Joe Read has a running joke that the state of his ego has a direct correlation to the wins and losses of his Southold/Greenport high school girls basketball team. So, after the Clippers suffered a 41-point shellacking at the hands of Mount Sinai, a reporter asked Read where his ego meter currently stood.

“I came in up here,” he answered, holding his hand about head high, “and now I’m down,” he said, bending low and holding that same hand about knee high. “They were us, where we want to be.”

Mount Sinai has a young team. Real young, as in a squad that includes two seventh-graders, an eighth-grader and two freshmen. And, get this, they all play. Oh boy, do they play.

The Clippers saw for themselves on Monday when Mount Sinai shot out to a 20-8 lead on the way to a 69-28 non-league win on its home floor. Two freshmen led the way. Victoria Johnson poured in 23 points and Veronica Venezia turned in 19 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals and 1 block. Altogether, nine Mustangs scored.

With an additional 10 rebounds from Olivia Williams and 9 from Carly Tucci, Mount Sinai (3-4) held a 46-28 rebounding advantage.

That may in part account for the Mustangs’ 49.2-percent field-goal percentage (29 of 59). The Clippers (2-5), on the other hand, struggled mightily trying to put the ball in the basket. They shot 19.3 percent from the floor (11 of 57).

Cari Gehring was the top scorer for the Clippers with 7 points.

It was a humbling experience for the Clippers, but one that brought value, nonetheless. Read said it was good for his players to face this sort of competition as they strive to improve.

In the first quarter Johnson scored 9 points and Venezia added 7 as Mount Sinai bolted to a 20-8 lead on the strength of 9-for-16 shooting. The Mustangs’ lead bloated from there. They led, 35-17, at halftime, and 57-21 after three quarters.

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12/12/13 4:33am
12/12/2013 4:33 AM
DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy's Juliana Cintron-Leonardo driving against Southold/Greenport's Kathleen Tuthill.

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy’s Juliana Cintron-Leonardo driving against Southold/Greenport’s Kathleen Tuthill.

MONARCHS 49, CLIPPERS 40

Had Wednesday night’s high school girls basketball game between Southold/Greenport and Bishop McGann-Mercy been a television program, one would have felt a need to check the color on the screen. For one thing, there was Cari Gehring, a former McGann-Mercy player, wearing Southold/Greenport red. And there was Joe Read, a former McGann-Mercy coach, wearing a red sweater and coaching Southold/Greenport.

“It was a surreal feeling,” Gehring said. “When I went out there to shake hands with the captains, I didn’t feel like I should be on the red side. It was just a weird feeling.”

Weird turned to distressing for Gehring as the League VIII opener for both teams went to the white and green of McGann-Mercy, 49-40.

Gehring, a senior guard playing in the McGann-Mercy gym for the first time since she was a sophomore for the Monarchs, swished a 3-point shot from the corner to tie the score for the fifth time, 38-38, with 4 minutes 35 seconds to go.

Moments later, Fiona Nunez, playing with neck tightness, hit a 3-pointer herself to snap the tie and ignite a game-closing 11-2 run for the Monarchs (2-1). The Monarchs scored the game’s last four baskets on back-to-back buckets by Savannah Hauser and then consecutive shots by Dayna Young.

“They never gave up,” McGann-Mercy’s first-year coach, Brian Babst, said of his players. “We have people banged up. We have people injured. We’ve got people not here for illness and stuff like that, and the kids stepped it up.”

And disappointed the two people on the Southold/Greenport side who have McGann-Mercy ties. Read had coached McGann-Mercy’s junior varsity team for four years, but he also coached the school’s varsity football and boys basketball teams and figures his relationship with the school covered 12 years. “Coming back, it was weird,” he said.

Read said he knows most of the current McGann-Mercy players. Gehring, who attended the school for three years before transferring to Southold High School this year, knows all of them, including Nunez, who she said is her closest friend.

Read said his players took the loss hard. Perhaps none of them took it harder than Gehring, who had tears in her eyes during a postgame interview.

“I put extra pressure on myself,” she said. “I felt like I had to prove something.”

With the win came a loss for the Monarchs, who saw one of their players crash hard onto the floor while battling for the ball. Fiona Flaherty, a sophomore forward/guard, took the hard fall with 4:01 left in the second quarter. One observer at the scorer’s table said he saw Flaherty land face first onto the court.

“I was really scared,” Gehring said. “She didn’t look O.K.”

Flaherty laid down on the court while she was being attended to. After a while she sat up to a round of applause. Moments later, she stood up to more applause, but looked unsteady on her feet as she was escorted to the team bench area. The game was held up while emergency rescue personnel attended to Flaherty and took her out of the gym in a wheelchair.

“I was just glad that she was O.K. and she talked with me,” Babst said. “I think she got a little upset, a little scared and a little winded.”

Gehring, who has a reputation for being a scorer, first made it into the scorebook when she canned a 3-pointer 5:02 into the game. She was Southold/Greenport’s high scorer with 14 points, shooting 3 of 7 from the field, 2 of 5 from beyond the arc, and 6 of 6 from the foul line. In addition, she had 9 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 assist.

Cindy Van Bourgondien grabbed 13 rebounds for the Clippers (0-2).

The Clippers had a terrible time trying to find the basket. They shot a woeful 18.3 percent (13 of 71). During one long, dreadful stretch, from late in the first quarter to about midway through the third, the Clippers shot 1 for 21.
“I was hoping we were going to be better,” Read said. “I was hoping we could pull it together. We just couldn’t put the basket in when we needed to.”

McGann-Mercy’s scoring was balanced. Kayla Schroeher led eight Monarchs scorers with 10 points. Young produced 9 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 steal. Megan Kuehhas added 8 points and 5 assists. Juliana Cintron Leonardo and Emily St. Louis supplied 10 rebounds each.

“It’s looking good,” Young said. “We are a lot better than last year and we’re going to get better.”

That’s Babst’s plan.

“It’s been a rough few years here,” he said. “I’ve only been on the job about a month and we’re trying to implement change and it’s the hardest thing to do, so we’re just trying to get the kids to go in the right direction. Today it was a small step in the right direction.”

Babst wasn’t blind to the sense that the game brought added spice because of the Read/Gehring connection, but he didn’t want his players to lose focus on the task at hand. “I told the kids before the game, I said, ‘You got to focus on basketball,’ ” he said. “So, they somewhat bought into the message, but I could see there was a little bit of hype around it. You heard it all day for the last few days.”

Now the talk should subside, at least until Jan. 18 when the teams meet again in Southold.

“It was a fair game, a good game, a hard-played game,” Read said. “It was everything high school basketball should be, very competitive. It was good. Both teams played hard. So, I’m happy — except for the outcome.”

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12/02/13 8:00pm
12/02/2013 8:00 PM
GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Shannon Dwyer was an All-League player for Mattituck last season, averaging about 14 points a game.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Shannon Dwyer was an All-League player for Mattituck last season, averaging about 14 points a game.

One can’t help but sense that Steve Van Dood takes special pleasure in coaching this season’s Mattituck High School girls basketball team. The Tuckers will play in a different mode this season, at a faster pace. That means steals, a variety of pressing defenses and transition basketball.

“It’s an exciting game to watch,” said Van Dood.

So, why not play it? The Tuckers have the speed, they have the athleticism. A new rule requiring teams to advance the ball beyond the half-court line within 10 seconds suits Mattituck (11-8 last season) just fine.

The Tuckers have two returning starters in senior forward/center Shannon Dwyer and sophomore point guard Katie Hoeg. Dwyer was an All-League player last season, not to mention The Suffolk Times’ Mattituck Female Athlete of the Year. She finished 14th in Suffolk County in scoring, averaging about 14 points a game.

“I think everything’s falling into place for her,” Van Dood said. “The confidence is there and she is playing really, really hard.”

With the graduation of Allie Wilcenski, though, Dwyer is being asked to help out on the boards, something she is certainly capable of doing with her jumping ability.

Starting as a freshman last season, Hoeg didn’t play like a freshman. She continues to play older than her years.

“Katie Hoeg is as steady as they come,” Van Dood said. “She doesn’t turn the ball over. She just has a poise out there that’s not common in a 10th grader.”

Those two are joined by veteran forwards Molly Kowalski and Courtney Murphy, and returning guards Christine Bieber and Sam Perino.

The other half of the roster consists of newcomers: forward Colby Prokop and guards Liz Wilcenski, Lisa Angell, Madison Kent, Tiana Baker and Liz Dwyer. Baker was the junior varsity team’s leading scorer last season. Wilcenski is assistant coach Don Wilcenski’s daughter, and Dwyer, an eighth grader, is Shannon’s younger sister.

“They all bring their own nice flavor to the team,” said Van Dood. He added: “They’re a good group. They listen well. They’re playing hard. A lot can happen with a team like that.”

“They play together as a team,” Van Dood said. “They move the ball well. We finally have some outside shooting. That’s a big key for us.”

That should come in handy since the Tuckers, by Van Dood’s estimate, lost about 60 percent of their scoring to graduation. Mattituck had the third-ranked offense in Suffolk last season.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Justina Babcock is one of four returning senior starters for Southold/Greenport.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Justina Babcock is one of four returning senior starters for Southold/Greenport.

It is safe to say that Cari Gehring is a difference-maker. Of course, just how much of a difference the senior transfer from Bishop McGann-Mercy will make for Southold/Greenport remains to be seen, but the Clippers (10-7) are counting on good things.

“Teams have to pay attention to her, so hopefully they’ll pay attention to her and that will help us attack in other places,” coach Joe Read said. “It’s nice to know that you have a person who can score points. I expect each team to try their best to stop her. That’s where I expect other people to pick up the slack.”

With the addition of McGann-Mercy, Read expects the competition in League VIII to be a little tougher, but he envisions the Clippers returning to the Suffolk County Class C final, the point where their season came to an end last season with a loss to The Stony Brook School.

Gehring, a guard who played for the United States in the United World Games this past summer, has signed a national letter of intent to play for Chestnut Hill College, an NCAA Division II team in Philadelphia. She gives a boost to the Clippers’ credibility.

As it is, the Clippers return four starters — all seniors — from last season, including two All-League selections, forward Abby Scharadin and point guard Justina Babcock. The other two starters are forward Cindy Van Bourgondien and guard Shannon Smith.

In addition, two other seniors, guard Jessica Rizzo and forward Shannon Quinn, offer varsity experience as well for a team that is built to win this season.

Read said he doesn’t know how long it will take for him to work the team’s younger players into the rotation, but he likes what he has seen from them.

Kenya Sanders, a junior forward, played for the junior varsity team last season. Sarah Tuthill, a sophomore, is an all-purpose player. Three freshmen should make their mark: guards Madison Tabor and Toni Esposito and forward Kathleen Tuthill.

“I look to be very aggressive in the back court,” Read said. “Tabor and Esposito, they’re as good as anybody defensively, and [Sarah] Tuthill, too. I think when you play us you’re going to know it.”

What the Clippers lack in height, they plan to make up for in speed.

“We’re definitely going to run,” Read said. “We want to run and wear teams down. We’re going to go full court all game.”

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11/25/13 5:00pm
11/25/2013 5:00 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Cari Gehring, who has represented the United States in international competition, transferred to spend her senior season with Southold/Greenport.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Cari Gehring, who has represented the United States in international competition, transferred to spend her senior season with Southold/Greenport.

When Joe Read left his job as Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School’s junior varsity girls basketball coach to take over the Southold/Greenport varsity team last season, it wasn’t a package deal. The fact that now, one year later, one of his former McGann-Mercy players has joined the Southold/Greenport ranks is an unexpected bonus for the Clippers.

To some of the Clippers, Cari Gehring’s transfer from McGann-Mercy to Southold High School was puzzling. Why, they wondered, would a player of her ability join the Clippers for her senior season?

“We were like, ‘Why is she coming here?’ ” Abby Scharadin, a senior forward, said. “I mean, at first we were like skeptical of her. Who wants to come play for Coach Read? He’s crazy. But she’s a part of our team now and it feels like she’s been here forever.”

Scharadin was being comical in calling her colorful coach crazy, but she was dead serious when she said she expects Gehring to help the team a lot. She isn’t the only one, either.

Coming from a basketball family, Gehring played for Read’s junior varsity team at McGann-Mercy when she was a freshman. The New Suffolk resident was brought up to the varsity team as a sophomore. As a junior, however, she did not play for the Monarchs, choosing instead to focus on playing with her Westbury-based club team, FST.

Transfers of players of Gehring’s caliber don’t come along every day. She has an impressive basketball résumé. How many high school seniors can say they have played for the United States?

Gehring has. She was a point guard for the United States in the United World Games that were played in Austria this past summer. The experience gave Gehring a taste of what it must feel like to be a celebrity.

“People wanted to take pictures with us,” she said. “People were asking us for our autographs. It was weird because we’re just regular girls. They really like look up to [the] USA. It was like a really overwhelming experience.”

Earlier this month, Gehring played for Suffolk County in an all-star game against Nassau County. She was among 12 players who made the Suffolk team; 75 players tried out for the squad.

On Wednesday Gehring signed a national letter of intent to play for Chestnut Hill College, an NCAA Division II team in Philadelphia. Her older sister, Danielle, a former McGann-Mercy student herself, is a freshman guard/forward for Chestnut Hill.

Gehring undoubtedly has talent.

“She’s definitely a scorer, so she’s definitely going to be putting up points for us,” senior point guard Justina Babcock said. “That’s what we need.”

Even when Gehring was a freshman, Read could tell that she had something.

“She [is] a really tough, tough competitor,” he said. “She will not quit until she’s dead. She’s very strong. She’s a gym rat.”

Now, back to the question of why Gehring transferred. One of the big reasons is Read.

“I just couldn’t imagine my senior year playing for any other coach,” she said. “He helped me so much. I developed so much because of him.”

“He’s really been like one of the biggest people in my life since freshman year and we hated each other at first,” she continued. “I hated coming to practice at first, but I realized everything he says, he does it with good intentions, and he really helps out so much.”

Gehring played for Southold/Greenport’s team in a summer league, but said she was still a bit uneasy about transferring. Her new teammates, though, soon alleviated those concerns, she said.

“The first week of school I thought I was going to hate it, and everybody here was just so welcoming, especially the basketball girls,” Gehring said after Thursday’s practice. “They were just like welcoming me with open arms. It’s been such an easy transition. … Everyone made it so easy for me and I love it here.”

Gehring sees herself as a point guard but the Clippers will most likely use her to fill a bigger need at shooting guard, succeeding the graduated Sydney Campbell. The Clippers already have a pair of fine point guards in Shannon Smith and Babcock.

Gehring unquestionably boosts the Clippers’ stock. Read said Gehring can shoot from outside, but also likes to penetrate and take the ball to the basket.

“The way we play, she’s going to have to hustle to find her shots, just like everybody else,” Read said. “… I have no doubt that she’s going to find ways to get her baskets. Maybe that will pick everyone else’s game up, too.” He added, “She has to shoot when she can and pass when she should, and that’s true of everybody.”

But Read believes the biggest difference Gehring makes is with her defense. That’s encouraging for a team hoping to improve in that area.

“I kept looking at the [score] book and looking at the film last year,” Read said. “We did a great job offensively last year … but what we were doing was as many as we were scoring we were giving back. So this year our emphasis is going to be” on defense. “We’re going to be some team you don’t want to play.”

Read has a good memory. He hasn’t forgotten his team’s loss to Stony Brook in the Suffolk County Class C final last season, a result that left the Clippers with a 10-7 record. He said, “We’ve got a vendetta to repay against Stony Brook.”

For a team that lost Nicole Busso, Melissa Rogers and Campbell to graduation, the addition of Gehring just may be the pick-me-up the Clippers need.

“Here’s what a coach would love,” Read said. “Think about this: A kid takes the game you coach really seriously. They work at it in the off-season. Every time, they’re working in the gym. That’s what she does. What’s not to like?”

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02/15/13 10:31pm
02/15/2013 10:31 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Nicole Busso, the League VIII most valuable player, after Southold's loss to The Stony Brook School in the Suffolk County Class C final.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Nicole Busso, the League VIII most valuable player, after Southold’s loss to The Stony Brook School in the Suffolk County Class C final.

SUFFOLK CLASS C FINAL | BEARS 56, FIRST SETTLERS 39

Along with a bold fashion statement came an even bolder statement about the state of girls basketball at The Stony Brook School.

For the second game in a row, Stony Brook walked onto a basketball court Friday wearing green socks. Actually, make that bright neon green socks. Neon green, by the way, is not part of the school’s blue-and-white color scheme.

Madison Rylands, a senior guard, said that in order to try something different, the team picked out the neon green socks, “the most obnoxious [color] we could find.”

It is believed the socks brought the Bears good luck in their final regular-season game, a win over Pierson/Bridgehampton, so there they were again, wearing those same socks for the Suffolk County Class C final against Southold on Friday. Even the team’s three coaches, including the head coach, Steve Harney, wore them.

“It worked last time,” explained Rylands.

And it did work again. Top-seeded Stony Brook not only brought its record to 2-0 when playing in the green socks but, bouncing back from a four-win season in 2011-12, collected its seventh county championship in eight years and eighth overall with a 56-39 defeat of last season’s Long Island champion, Southold. It’s the second title of the season for the League VIII champion Bears (12-4).

“It’s great,” Rylands said after the game at Center Moriches High School. “The dynasty has been returned.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Stony Brook's Allie Damianos defending against Southold's Justina Babcock.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Stony Brook’s Allie Damianos defending against Southold’s Justina Babcock.

Stony Brook triumphed in convincing fashion. Southold (10-7), the No. 3 seed, trailed by 8 points at halftime, but then Stony Brook blew the game open in the third quarter, when it really turned things on. The Bears finished the third quarter on a 21-6 run — while shooting 8 for 12 from the floor — for a 47-26 lead. Ariana Odom scored 9 points during that spurt.

Meanwhile, Southold struggled through 8-for-31 shooting in the second half.

“They shot out of their minds,” Southold coach Joe Read said of the Bears. “They had to be shooting 60, 70 percent. We were missing underneath shots that we normally don’t miss.”

Odom (14 points, 9 rebounds), Rylands (13 points, 9 rebounds) and Keara Vancol (13 points) led the way for Stony Brook, which also received 7 assists from Allie Damianos.

Nicole Busso, the Southold senior forward who was recently voted the League VIII most valuable player by the league’s coaches, had a double-double in her final game for the First Settlers. She scored 11 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.

“She is considered the best in our league,” Read said. “She played big in big games. She’s a big-game player, and you can build a team around her.”

The field-goal shooting was in Stony Brook’s favor, with the Bears connecting on 42 percent (21 of 50) of their shots. Southold shot 27.6 percent (16 of 58).

The foul count went against Southold, too, 15-6.

“We were completely ready for this game,” Rylands said. “We knew exactly what to do, and we did it. We were very prepared for this team. We know this team. We know every player by number and by name, so we know exactly what they’re going to do.”

Busso, who walked off the court for the last time along with Southold’s four other seniors — Sydney Campbell, Michaela Christman, Melissa Rogers and Carley Staples — said: “We each gave our hearts. There’s really not much to say at this point.”

Vancol said unity helped Stony Brook this season. Because Stony Brook is a boarding school, the players live together 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Another motivating factor was seeing its string of six straight county titles broken last year. The Bears resolved to do something about that.

“It was difficult,” Vancol said, “but at the same time, I knew that this year is the year that we could do it.”

Read, who completed his first campaign as Southold’s coach, said it was a “great season.” He added: “This year we put our hearts in it. When you lose in a big game it is really depressing, but this season? How many teams are playing right now in Suffolk County.”

Stony Brook is among the select few teams still alive in Suffolk. The Bears will next play in a Suffolk Class B-C game against Southampton or Center Moriches on Feb. 22.

Busso gave the Bears credit. “They brought it,” she said. “They had heart. They wanted it, and they came at us. They wanted that title back, and they got it.”

Now, green socks and all, the Bears are back on top of the Suffolk Class C world.

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02/13/13 8:25pm
02/13/2013 8:25 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold's jubilant coach, Joe Read, celebrating with his players after they survived a semifinal scare in Port Jefferson.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold’s jubilant coach, Joe Read, celebrating with his players after they survived a semifinal scare in Port Jefferson.

SUFFOLK CLASS C SEMIFINAL | FIRST SETTLERS 65, ROYALS 64

The Southold girls basketball team reached the Suffolk County Class C final by the skin of its collective teeth on Wednesday night.

The First Settlers survived a near-miraculous comeback by Port Jefferson to record a 65-64 win over the hosts in the semifinal encounter.

Defending Long Island champion Southold (11-6) will play the winner of the Stony Brook-Pierson/Bridgehampton semifinal in the county final at Center Moriches High School on Friday.

Southold coach Joe Read said he was “very confident” entering the final.

“This team is a scrappy team,” he said. “We’re a running team, they’re a running team. It was who ran the hardest and fastest. I was happy with the way we played. We match up really good with either one of the teams.”

The First Settlers enjoyed as much as a 61-50 lead with 4 minutes 33 seconds remaining in the game before the Royals (10-8) rallied to pull within striking distance.

“We couldn’t pull away,” Read said. “Port Jeff, they were so tenacious. They kept coming, kept coming. We’re a running team and I thought we could run them down and get them tired, but they hung in there. That’s a playoff game.”

Senior forward Melissa Rogers scored 7 of her 18 points in the final 5:23, including two foul shots to give Southold a 65-61 advantage with 21 seconds remaining.

After a turnover, junior guard Olivia Racanelli hit a 3-pointer — one of her three treys in the fourth quarter — to bring Port Jefferson to within 65-64 with four seconds remaining.

After a timeout, Rogers tried a long pass down court to keep the ball well out of harm’s way, but her pass was so high that it hit a suspension beam hanging from the gymnasium ceiling with four seconds left. The ball was ruled out of bounds and Port Jefferson was awarded possession.

After a Port Jefferson timeout, the Royals’ Rachel London inbounded the ball. Courtney Lewis missed a shot as the ball bounded away from the basket. Players from each team converged on the ball as Southold guard Justina Babcock managed to hold it as the final buzzer sounded.

Nicole Busso, a senior who dominated the boards with Rogers, led Southold with 24 points.

02/13/13 12:00pm
GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Nicole Busso, one of Southold's five seniors, shooting over Pierson/Bridgehampton's Holly Zappola.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Nicole Busso, one of Southold’s five seniors, shooting over Pierson/Bridgehampton’s Holly Zappola.

Instead of hearing the cheers of their friends, classmates and families, the five seniors on the Southold High School girls basketball team practiced in an empty gymnasium on Tuesday.

The First Settlers were denied the moments of glory countless high school seniors receive on Senior Night after Smithtown Christian forfeited Tuesday’s scheduled game.

Needless to say, the Southold players had mixed emotions as they prepared for Wednesday’s 5 p.m. encounter at Port Jefferson in a Suffolk County Class C semifinal.

“It definitely would have been nice to have our friends, family and teachers around because they helped us grow our lives and flourish and grow into the people we are today, to celebrate with the people who built you up and the people that made you the person you are today,” senior forward Melissa Rogers said. “It’s upsetting that we could not do that.”

Her senior teammates agreed.

“It was depressing, but in a way it saves the tears that would have to be dropped,” guard Carley Staples said. “It’s sad that I’ll never play another game in this gym. It’s like a second home. It’s tough.”

Added forward Nicole Busso: “It is pretty hard. We know the five of us that have grown up together playing basketball. This is our court. This court defines us. Whether we have a ceremony in front off a crowd or just with each other, it’s still our night, it’s still our year.”

And there is another game to play.

Instead of playing a game 24 hours before an important playoff game and worrying about injuries, the First Settlers were allowed to focus on the task at hand. At the start of practice, the team had its own ceremony as flowers and presents were handed out to the five seniors.

“It was cute and it was meaningful,” guard/forward Michaela Christman said. “I think we were all right with that.”

Christman, for example, received Sour Patch kids, Skittles and Starbursts in her gift basket.

“They know they’re my favorite,” she said. “We each got individual baskets, little balloons. They customized them to look like us and gift certificates and stuff like that.”

At the Southold boys game against Smithtown Christian later that night, the members of the girls team in attendance were recognized.

Sydney Campbell, a guard who sat out practice due to an illness, sang the national anthem, as she has done in prior games.

“It’s sad … but we all know how we feel about each other,” she said. “We know how we feel about the game. Basketball is our sport. We are going to play it no matter what. We don’t need an ending game because we’re not going to stop.”

Originally scheduled for last Friday, the game was postponed due to the blizzard. Southold wanted to move up the game to Thursday, but Smithtown Christian couldn’t.

Southold coach Joe Read put his team through a 90-minute workout.

“It was a good practice for a day before the game,” Staples said. “We practiced what we need to know for tomorrow. We didn’t work ourselves to the point where we’re going to be sore tomorrow. We worked hard mentally. So that’s what you need to do to be a good team.”

Except for a newspaper reporter watching from the stands, the gymnasium was empty.

Read saw the forfeit as motivation. He said the First Settlers (10-6 overall) wound up as the third seed in the tournament because they had an 8-3 league record at the time of the seeding, behind No. 2 seed Port Jefferson (10-7, 9-3). He added that the forfeit boosted the mark to 9-3, but it was too late to help.

“It’s really bad for the seniors,” he said of postponed Senior Night. “I feel bad for them. On top of that, we don’t get the home game the next day. It was a double whammy. It’s been that kind of a season, but hopefully this next season, which is the playoffs, is going to be more. … We’re playing pretty good. I hope we put it together and score points.”

Southold and Port Jefferson split their games. The Royals won at their place, 57-53, on Jan. 3, the First Settlers avenging the loss with a 63-55 home victory on Jan. 30.

“The first time we weren’t prepared for what they had to bring for us,” Busso said. “That was a very disappointing loss. It was our first loss of the season. It was our personal first loss in two years, considering we went undefeated last season until the [Southeast Region final]. It was kind of a wake-up call.”

Read said that he planned to use Southold’s height advantage.

“They’re a little scrappy team,” Read said. “They’re small, but they full-court press the whole game. They are tough.

“So what we want to do is use our height and dictate how the style of game is going to go. The first time we lost to them we were ahead except for the last minute. We had trouble. The second game was not a problem. … We’re looking to be calm with the ball and use our advantages, which is our height and experience.”

01/31/13 10:17pm
01/31/2013 10:17 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Carley Staples of Southold is swarmed by Pierson/Bridgehampton's Bridget Canavan (24), Emily Hinz (23) and Meg Evjen (00).

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Carley Staples of Southold is swarmed by Pierson/Bridgehampton’s Bridget Canavan (24), Emily Hinz (23) and Meg Evjen (00).

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.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold senior Michaela Christman, who is tightly defended by Pierson/Bridgehampton's Abby Ruiz, sat out almost her entire junior season with a knee injury.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold senior Michaela Christman, who is tightly defended by Pierson/Bridgehampton’s Abby Ruiz, sat out almost her entire junior season with a knee injury.

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.’ ”

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