There was no stopping the Mount Sinai girls basketball team in the Suffolk County Class A Championship at Centereach High School on February 20.
Having won the county title in 2017, the Lady Mustangs were upset by Hauppauge in last year’s county final. They had already avenged that loss by defeating top-seeded Hauppauge in this season’s county semifinal on February 16, so Mount Sinai had one thing in its sights and that was its second county championship in three years. Westhampton Beach, playing in its first county final since 2005, was the only thing standing in its way.
Mount Sinai went on to achieve its goal with a 71-44 victory, putting an abrupt end to what had been a historic season for the Lady Hurricanes.
Freshman Olivia Rongo put Westhampton Beach ahead, 8-6, early in the first quarter, but that was the last time the Lady Hurricanes would have the lead. In fact, it took a good 15 minutes or so for Westhampton Beach to score another basket, when junior Isabelle Smith hit a three-pointer with 5:35 remaining in the first half. By that time, Mount Sinai already led by 12.
The writing was on the wall that it was going to be the Lady Mustangs’ game to lose late in the second quarter when Gabby Sartori, arguably Mount Sinai’s best player, had to come out of the game after she fell hard to court after taking a foul. Margaret Kopceinski entered the game for her and sunk both free throws. She then knocked down consecutive three-pointers and made four of Mount Sinai’s eight on the night.
Sartori eventually re-entered the game, and with time winding down in the first half, she heaved a buzzer-beating three from halfcourt to give her team a 39-19 lead at halftime. Mount Sinai didn’t let up in the second half.
Sartori (18 points) and Kopceinski (14 points) both had strong games, but it was Brook Cergol that led all scorers with 26 points. Smith led Westhampton Beach with 22 points which included four three-pointers, two of which were the first six points of the game for the Lady Hurricanes.
Smith, and her senior teammate, Lindsay Rongo, both said after the game that it was frustrating facing a team that didn’t miss a shot. Their head coach, Katie Peters, said it happens, especially for a team that’s been in a high-pressure game like a county championship.
“I really give them a lot of credit, they played a phenomenal basketball game,” she said of the Lady Mustangs. “We didn’t match them. We didn’t match them on the defensive end, we didn’t match them on the offensive end. Sometimes that happens.
“I’m proud of my girls,” Peters added. “We’re young. I think it was a good indication of where they’re headed for next season. [Mount Sinai] has a lot of upperclassmen.
“All we had we left out there, but what we had just wasn’t enough.”
Lindsay Rongo is the lone senior graduating from a young Westhampton Beach team that defeated higher seeds in Elwood/John Glenn in the quarterfinals and cross-town rival Eastport/South Manor in the semifinals to reach the championship game. Although it had reached the postseason in 2011 and 2012, the playoff victories were the first for the program since 2005.
Rongo was proud of what the team was able to accomplish in her final season.
“I’ve seen us grow throughout the four years. It was a good year to end on,” she said.
With almost the entire team returning next season, expectations will be high. Peters was hesitant to say that her team would definitely be back to the county final next year, due to the many different factors that go into a successful campaign, as the Lady Canes saw this season. Westhampton Beach narrowly missed the playoffs the past two seasons, each by a single game, and therefore wasn’t on anyone’s radar in the beginning of this season. A 10-0 start certainly changed all that and it won’t be so easy to overlook Westhampton Beach next season.
“I’m definitely excited for future years,” Smith said. “Mount Sinai had the experience being here, so they came in here hot today, but now we have the experience. With only one senior, it’ll be exciting to come back here and prove people wrong.”