One of the most frequently referenced adages in basketball—offense wins games, defense wins championships—exists for good reason: more often than not, it rings true.
It certainly did for the Southampton girls basketball team in a 43-40 overtime win over Harborfields in the Suffolk County Small Schools Championship game at Northport High School on February 27. Down by eight points going into the fourth quarter, the Lady Mariners held the Suffolk Class A champion Tornadoes (19-2) to just eight points in the frame and came up with several clutch defensive plays to force the extra session and ultimately win the game. They successfully defended the title they won by beating Elwood/John Glenn in the same game last year. Two nights later, however, Southampton (17-4) fell short in its quest to win the overall county title, losing, 54-42, to Class AA champ Sachem East (20-1) at Ward Melville High School.
The Lady Mariners were scheduled to continue their run in the Class B bracket in the Long Island Championship against Cold Spring Harbor on Wednesday, March 6, at Hofstra University. Results from that game will be in next week’s edition and at 27east.com. Southampton beat Cold Spring Harbor to win the Long Island ‘B’ title last season before losing to eventual state champion Irvington in the next game, the regional final.
Against Harborfields, Southampton’s defense was simply superior to Harborfields’s offense down the stretch, when it mattered most. With 33 seconds left in regulation, Southampton senior Paris Hodges made an open court steal of Harborfields senior guard Bridgit Ryan and coasted to the basket for a layup that put her team up, 38-37. With less than 20 seconds left, Harborfields senior forward Amy Werbitsky made a free throw to tie the game, and with 12.7 seconds left, Southampton wasn’t able to get a final shot off, leading to overtime.
In the extra period, however, the Lady Mariners defense carried the team once again, allowing Harborfields just two points. Junior Noelle Hodges drove to the basket amid three defenders and scored a tough shot with 40 seconds left to put Southampton up, 42-40. With 22 seconds left, Paris Hodges came up with another steal to snuff out a Lady Tornadoes possession. She was fouled and made one of two free throws, leading to the final margin. Harborfields shot a three in the final seconds that rimmed out, and Noelle Hodges grabbed the rebound with 5.7 seconds left, effectively ending the threat.
Paris Hodges led her team with 20 points. She was the only double digit scorer for Southampton, but that didn’t matter much thanks to her team’s effort on defense.
Southampton head coach Juni Wingfield said that his team’s ability to shine on the defensive end of the floor—which has become its calling card this season—is directly related to its conditioning, something he said the team worked especially hard on during its long layoff between the end of the regular season and winning the Suffolk County Class B title.
“Our conditioning was higher,” he said. “That’s what did it. [The Lady Tornadoes] were tired. Once we see that in their demeanor and their eyes, we know we have to reach in and push it up one more notch. I felt like we were physically and mentally stronger.”
Wingfield said he knew his team would need to rely on what he believed was its superior conditioning in order to get past a very talented Harborfields team, one that beat his squad handily back during the fall league offseason games and had a distinct size advantage in the frontcourt. To that end, he made his team play an aggressive man-to-man full court defense for the entire game in an attempt to wear the Lady Tornadoes down.
“You bring someone down to your size when you make them play 90 feet,” he explained.
While the Lady Mariners have earned a reputation as one of the top teams in Suffolk County this season, they weren’t necessarily expected to beat Harborfields, a larger school. Southampton seniors Hodges and Goree said that proving doubters wrong was a big part of their motivation for winning the game, in addition to the fact that they wanted to defend the title they won last year.
“We wanted it so bad,” Hodges said after the game. “A lot of times, people underestimate us, so we wanted to show them that we’re better than they think we are.”
Goree expressed the same sentiment, in a bit of a different way.
“I want to thank the haters,” she said.
Girls Fall Short Against Sachem East
Southampton fell one win short of the distinction of best in the county with the loss to Sachem East on Friday night. It was the second loss of the season to the Flaming Arrows for the Lady Mariners, who lost to them, 59-47, in a non-league game in December. Southampton fell behind by seven points after the first quarter, and Wingfield said that was too big of a lead to spot the Flaming Arrows that early in the game.