02/13/13 12:00pm
02/13/2013 12:00 PM
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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