The first four seasons Taylor Pike played for the Southampton varsity girls basketball team, it didn’t come anywhere close to earning a playoff spot. So last year, her senior season, when the team was still in the hunt with two games left on the schedule—both must-wins—she wanted to get there. Badly.
Both of the final games were winnable, and as the lone senior and captain on the team of mostly freshmen and sophomores, Pike was determined to make it happen. That’s why when the Lady Mariners went into halftime against Port Jefferson down by nine points in the first of those two games, she did something she’d never done before.
“I had never heard her use profanity before, but she looked at them and said, ‘What … is wrong with you?’” head coach Richard “Juni” Wingfield said, adding that she sprinkled the question with another word he’d never heard her say to her teammates. “She said: ‘Are you scared? We can win this game! Let’s do this!’ And it was dead still silence. They go out after that, and next thing you know, we go from being nine points down to going ahead by four points.”
When coaches talk about a player who “leaves it all on the floor,” or the field, they are talking about someone like Taylor Pike. She is a petite, friendly teenage girl with an easy smile and laugh, outgoing but unassuming. But on the basketball court and softball diamond, she long ago earned the reputation as someone who would be relentless in pursuit of the ball, would sacrifice her body for a rebound or a fly ball; someone who would power her way through a game with a 102 fever, vomit at halftime, and get back out there (true story).
After halftime against Port Jeff, Pike asked Wingfield if she could switch her defensive assignment and guard Port Jeff’s best player, which Wingfield said was a big reason for the turnaround. The story did not have a Hollywood ending—Pike fouled out with her team leading by four with two minutes left, and the Lady Mariners lost by three. Southampton went on to beat Babylon in the final game, led by Pike’s 14 points in what was her last hoops game in a Mariners uniform. The loss, putting the team just one win short of that elusive playoff spot, was tough for Pike to take, she said, but she did not dwell on it, or stew in misery for days. Or even hours. It’s simply not in her nature, and on top of that, she just doesn’t have the time.
Pike, 17, is the youngest of five children, in a family in which playing sports isn’t just a way of life, it is their life, in the most literal sense. Her oldest brother, Chris Pike, was a lights-out pitcher who led the Southampton baseball team to back-to-back Suffolk County and Long Island Championships and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays. Her sister, Kayla, played tennis and volleyball. Her brothers, Garrett and Chad Pike, were both standout baseball players, and played other sports as well. Garrett was a starting goalie for the varsity soccer team, while Chad was a starter on the boys basketball team when it won county and Long Island titles.
For as long as she can remember, Pike’s life has revolved around sports, from when she was tagging along as a toddler to practices or happily hanging out in the dugout during varsity baseball games, a boisterous, blonde-haired little girl unabashedly cheering on a group of teenage boys. There were countless travel league road trips with her family, first for her older siblings and finally for her. To no one’s surprise, she had become a standout three-sport athlete at Southampton by her senior year, leading both the basketball and softball teams while also joining the girls volleyball team as a senior. On the cusp of graduating from high school in less than two months, Pike is hoping to continue playing her top sport—softball—in college. She’ll stay busy until then, of course, because that’s what she does. Travel softball team commitments, summer jobs working at Flying Point Surf Shop and babysitting, playing one more season of summer league basketball with the younger teammates she was instrumental in mentoring as the only senior; and even squeezing in a new hobby, boxing, at Hill Street Boxing, in the early morning hours. Pike says it’s the only way of life she’s ever known.
“Having three older brothers constantly doing something was super motivating,” Pike said in an interview last week. She smiled brightly, her long, straight, dirty blonde hair adorned with a ball cap, wearing a maroon and white Mariners baseball shirt, ripped jeans, and white high tops. “And my sister was always playing tennis and softball. That was a huge thing for me, watching them. I don’t think I went a summer without traveling with them [for sports]. It was fun watching them, for sure.”
Playing sports wasn’t limited to team practices or games. The Pike household was its own training ground, Pike said, where siblings were both foes and teammates, depending on the day and the game, and gender was irrelevant.
“There was never a day off from playing something. If it was a holiday, it was flag football. And they definitely did not take it easy on me at all. I remember one time we were playing flag football in the basement, and I fell, and Chris picked me up but he almost pulled my arm out of the socket. I think that’s why I’m so tough now.”
Pike said her work ethic comes from not only trying to keep up with four sports-centric older siblings but also from the example of her parents, who would sacrifice time and energy to get the kids to games and practices, waking up early, traveling on weekends, and going to bed late.
Carly Cenzoprano knows Pike as well as anyone. The classmates have been friends since they were little, and both shared a love of sports, talent in those sports, and perhaps most importantly, a desire to take those sports seriously at a young age. They craved intense competition so much, in fact, that they often played on boys teams as children—they were the only girls on a Southampton Little League baseball team (demanding that their fathers, who were coaches, put them on the same team), and also played together on boys PAL basketball teams. Pike even played on a Southampton youth football team, and for a period of time joined a boys travel baseball team as well.
“We definitely learned a lot from that,” Cenzoprano said. “It definitely gave us more experience. The boys are more aggressive and intense, so it made us work to a higher level.”
Cenzoprano remembers times when they’d hear boys refer to them as “easy outs,” which was probably a mistake.
“It was frustrating but also motivating,” she said. “It was just something we had to deal with. It would make us want to really hit a bomb, just to prove to them that even though we’re girls, we really can play at that level.”
Any doubters that existed—if there ever were any—were silenced once Pike started playing varsity sports.
“Every coach’s dream is to coach a gifted and talented athlete, and that’s really rare,” Wingfield said. “She came to the table with certain skills that were honed by being the youngest in a family of athletes. She’s also a born leader, and she has a passion for her friends and teammates.
“She’s a very principled and obedient child,” he added. “And she doesn’t succumb to peer pressure. She’s a vocal leader, and she’s really blessed to have parents who have always supported her too. I probably won’t have another athlete like her in a long time.”
Pike is still in the decision-making process for college, strongly considering Oklahoma City University, where her brothers, Chris and Chad, played baseball. The school also has a softball team with a winning tradition, and after playing on a high school softball team that made the playoffs once her freshman year, she’d like to get a taste of that kind of atmosphere. She’s also looking into Barry University in Miami and the College of Charleston, and she was already accepted to the University of Tampa and Daytona State. The bottom line for Pike is that she just wants to keep playing the sports she loves. It’s hard to imagine any coach or program not wanting her, not just for her talent, but for the kind of example she sets for her teammates.
In both basketball and softball, Pike was the kind of player who was fully capable of, as the cliché goes, putting the team on her back. And she frequently did, generating much needed scoring or shutting down the opposing team’s top player. That she managed to do this in basketball despite the fact she is usually one of the shortest players on the floor speaks to her uncommon will.
Her contributions in the scorebook will never be her greatest legacy, according to Wingfield. What he says he will remember most about Pike is how she reacted in that final game against Babylon. Knowing the playoffs were no longer an option, Pike still played hard, scoring 14 points, but he said she was most proud to see some of those underclassmen step up and play big roles in the win as well. The Lady Mariners will probably make the playoffs next year, even without Pike, and should be a force for years to come, with the most talented players still only mostly in ninth and tenth grade. She won’t still be on the team, but Pike can say she had a part in that.
“She took the young ones, and really put them under her wings,” Wingfield said. “She showed them by example what it means to leave it all out there. She showed them night after night after night. And they all got better because of her.”