If the true measure of a great player is how she performs when the game is on the line, then Paris Hodges has to be considered a force to be reckoned with.
The Southampton junior scored nine of her 15 points in the fourth quarter of a 46-33 win over Center Moriches (8-6 overall record) on Saturday night to send her team to the Suffolk County Class B Championship. The top seeded Lady Mariners (16-3) were scheduled to take on No. 2 Hampton Bays (15-4), which beat Mattituck in the other semifinal on Saturday afternoon, for the title at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. Coverage of that game will appear in this week’s news section.
For the first three quarters of Saturday night’s win, Hodges had struggled on offense, watching the majority of her shots hit the rim while also having trouble getting penetration inside. As a result, her team was clinging to a 32-30 lead early in the fourth quarter after Center Moriches’s Pamela Schenck hit a jumper to open the frame.
That’s when Hodges took over.
She hit back-to-back three-pointers before sending a perfect pass in the paint to teammate and sister Noelle Hodges, who dropped the ball in the basket to put Southampton up, 40-30, with four minutes left. Center Moriches called a time-out at that point, allowing the Lady Mariners to soak up the applause from the crowd, which had been waiting with increasing anticipation to see the team pull away from the Red Devils.
Southampton continued to add to its lead after the time-out—Paris Hodges was fouled and hit one of her free throws, forward Kesi Goree was fouled and hit both shots from the line, Noelle Hodges hit one of two free throws, and Paris Hodges connected on a driving layup to make it a 46-30 lead with a minute left. Center Moriches standout Takia Plummer drove to the basket and got fouled for a three-point play with 44 seconds left to create the final margin.
Hodges led all scorers with her 15 points and also had five rebounds and four assists. Noelle Hodges had 13 points and Cassidy Guida had 11. Goree had five points, eight rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. Schenck led Center Moriches with 11 points, while Plummer was held to just seven.
While the surge on offense, led by Hodges, pushed the Lady Mariners to the win, defense played a big part too. Southampton head coach Richard “Juni” Wingfield switched his team to a 2-3 zone defense early in the fourth quarter, partly in an effort to contain Plummer, but also because several of his key players were in foul trouble. Goree played most of the second half with four fouls while Hodges was saddled with three for a long time.
“It really changed the complexion of things,” Wingfield said after the game. “Takia was starting to be Takia, and because Kesi had those four fouls and Paris had three, we really had to do it for survival.”
Simply surviving was the name of the game for the Lady Mariners throughout the first three quarters, and Hodges said she had to focus on keeping up her energy level and intensity despite her early shooting woes. She said she didn’t let the poor start affect her confidence.
“I just tried to keep my mind off it,” she said after the game. “I tried to stay in the game by playing good defense. You can’t dwell on the past, you just have to keep shooting until you make one.”
Indeed, Hodges certainly had plenty of work on the defensive end of the floor. She was tasked with guarding Plummer, a tenacious guard who excels at driving to the hoop, after teammate Carley Guida—who normally guards Plummer—left the game in the first minute with an ankle injury. It wasn’t, however, something Hodges was unprepared for.
“In AAU, I always guard the best player,” she said. “I felt like I had to step up and do it for Carley.”
Wingfield said he was proud of all his players for the way they stepped up in what was their most hard-fought victory to date. Forward Dominique Taylor absorbed the majority of Carley Guida’s minutes and played well, fulfilling her role as a tenacious defender and rebounder. Both Taylor and Goree came up with key rebounds on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter.
“It was a true playoff game,” Wingfield said. “We knew [the Lady Red Devils] were going to battle; they have that tradition of being Long Island champs. But the bottom line, and what I told the kids we were most excited about, was that we really played like a contender.”