Facing a team like Mount Sinai, which has won the Suffolk County Class A girls basketball championship two out of the past three seasons, is no easy task, especially for a much smaller school like Pierson/Bridgehampton. But the Lady Whalers proved on Friday in the Small Schools Championship at Walt Whitman High School, they can be a force to be reckoned with as well.
Facing a 17-point deficit with four minutes remaining in the third quarter, Pierson went on a blistering 12-0 run that it carried over into the fourth. After a three-pointer from junior Chastin Giles, senior Katie Kneeland was fouled shooting a three and went to the line. She made all three foul shots, and just like that, the Lady Whalers had made it a three-point game at 54-51 with 6:10 remaining in regulation, putting a scare in the Lady Mustangs.
But that was as close as they would get. Led by its two top players in seniors Gabby Sartori (game-high 32 points) and Brooke Cergol (14 points), Mount Sinai swung the momentum back in its favor with an 11-0 run and went on to the 69-55 victory, ending Pierson’s run in the county tournament.
The feeling of a loss was somewhat new for Pierson, which had been riding a 19-game winning streak coming into Friday’s game. The last time Pierson lost was nearly three months ago when it suffered what was its third consecutive non-league loss to start the season, a 54-34 defeat at Harborfields back on December 5.
Despite all of that, Pierson head coach Kevin Barron thought it was his team’s best game of the county tournament.
“We always play up to the competition,” he said. “No one [was] expecting us to win this game. I think their coach was a little bit frazzled. He wasn’t expecting it to be a three-point game at any time—we made it happen. Fourth quarter, we just ran out of a steam a little bit, and that’s going to happen when the other team is a little bit better than you. We did all we could, made it a close game.”
Kneeland led Pierson with 20 points while Giles, who committed her fourth foul with a under a minute remaining in the third, finished with 11. Bridgehampton senior Aziza El scored 10 points off the bench and Pierson senior Celia Barranco finished with nine points.
Barranco said, despite her team’s early struggles, it could have won.
“Overall, I think we played an amazing game,” she said. “We thought we were going to lose by 30.”
After getting the entire weekend off, which Barranco said was needed, Pierson will turn its attention to starting a new run, this time in the state tournament. The Lady Whalers will play the winner of the Section I (Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties)/Section IX (Orange, Sullivan and Ulster) game on March 9 in the Regional Final. Millbrook of Section IX is the defending state champion and the top-ranked team in the latest New York State Sportswriters Association poll—Pierson has climbed up those rankings to 12th. Barron sounded confident in thinking that his team will face Millbrook in the Regional Final for the right to advance to the New York State Class C Final Four. If that’s the case, the Regional Final will be at SUNY New Paltz March 9 at 1:30 p.m.
Barron doesn’t think his team will face another opponent this season that possesses the skill that Mount Sinai had, leading him to think they’ll do just fine going forward, as long as they continue to work hard.
“It’s all about preparation from here on out,” he said. “[They] have to be fired up to come to practice.”