The varsity basketball season can be quite demanding. Practices and scrimmages start in mid-November, games start in early December, and if all goes according to plan, teams can play well into March.
The Pierson/Bridgehampton girls basketball team set out on a goal nearly four months ago to play as deep into the season as it could, and even with as much success as it had this season, it fell just short of reaching the pinnacle of its sport.
The Lady Whalers lost, 55-26, to defending New York State Class C Champion Millbrook in the Regional Final at SUNY New Paltz on Saturday afternoon, falling one win shy of reaching this weekend’s state Final Four at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. Millbrook (Section IX-Orange, Sullivan, Ulster), which is undefeated through 20 games so far this season, will play Watkins Glen (Section IV-Southern Tier) this Friday, March 15, in the state semifinal.
Saturday’s loss, though, doesn’t mar the fact that Pierson had one of its best seasons in program history. After winning the League VI title with a 16-0 undefeated record, the Lady Whalers went on to win another three games in the Suffolk County tournament, eventually falling to Class A Champion Mount Sinai in the Small Schools Championship, which ended the team’s impressive 19-game winning streak.
“It was amazing. I’m so happy to go out with this team,” Pierson senior Katie Kneeland said after the game. “We played awesome on the court, but we did that because we had such great chemistry off the court. I’ve been on the team for five years now, this is the most close-knit group of girls I’ve ever played with.”
“I’m going to miss them a lot, especially my coach,” Pierson senior Celia Barranco said, referring to head coach Kevin Barron, who is stepping down after this season to spend more time with his family, which includes two young children. “He’s taught me so much, and I’m going to be grateful for that forever. And I’m going to miss playing with these girls, especially the seniors.”
Barron started his coaching career at Pierson in 2008 with the junior varsity boys basketball season, but has, for the past seven years, coached the varsity girls team. He has already said that he would like to come back to coaching at some point in the future. But for now, he’s going to step away.
“I tried to say something in the locker room, and I got all choked up,” a visibly upset Barron said. “The seniors, I could talk forever about each one of them. They’re all great kids.”
Millbrook showed from the opening tip-off that it was going to be a force to be reckoned with throughout the game. Erin Fox, a junior who has committed to continue her basketball career at Marist College, scored the game’s first basket on a layup and made the ensuing free throw after she was fouled, sparking an 11-0 start for Lady Blazers. Kneeland finally put Pierson on the scoreboard with a three with 1:15 remaining in the quarter, but Millbrook had a 10-point lead by the end of the quarter and doubled that by halftime.
The main issue for the Lady Whalers was that it could never get its offense going. Barranco scored a team-high 10 points, just a single point ahead of the team’s usual leading scorer Kneeland. Junior Chastin Giles did what she could in pushing the offense with her assists, but she only scored a single point. Fox led Millbrook with a game-high 26 points.
Barron simply gave credit to Millbrook for playing a great game.
“We had a lot of film on them. We found stuff online, so we thought we were well prepared. But, obviously, when you don’t see them in person … it’s nothing like when you get on the court,” he explained. “Having two and a half weeks off, too. We did what we could to simulate live play, we scrimmaged the boys a few times.”
Many of the team’s nine graduating seniors were able to get in the game and contributed in some way, including Paige Schaefer, Phoebe Arkinson, Carly Browngardt and Aziza El. Autumn Coffey, Olivia Aupperlee and Monasia Street are also among the soon-to-be graduates.
Giles is expected to return next season as a senior. She and freshman Sofia Mancino will be the only pair returning with a good amount of varsity experience. Barron said the JV team went undefeated and should send a talented group up to varsity, leading him to think the team will be successful going forward. But it’s still going to be tough to watch from the stands instead of his usual spot on the sidelines.
“I’m going to miss the competitive nature—it’s in my blood. But it’s going to be fun to be a fan,” he said.