For the past three years, Theresa Carey has had a singularity of purpose, spending nearly every day in the gym, basketball in hand, preparing for the stage on which she now finds herself.
The Hampton Bays senior has begun to see her hard work and dedication pay off this year, as she’s led her team to the second-best record in League VII, the No. 2 seed in the Class B playoffs and, on Saturday, a 63-44 home win over Mattituck that put the Lady Baymen into the county Class B championship game.
Hampton Bays (15-5 overall record) was slated to face No. 1 seed Southampton (16-3), which beat Center Moriches in the other semifinal on Saturday night, at St. Joseph’s College on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. for the title. Coverage of that game will appear in this week’s news section.
Saturday afternoon was certainly the highlight of Carey’s hoops career to date. Not only did she lead her team into the Class B championship, she also recorded her 1,000th career point, hitting a free throw with 7:10 left in the game that gave her squad a 42-34 lead. From that point on, the Lady Baymen were unstoppable, putting away a Mattituck team that had hung around and kept it interesting for the first three quarters.
Carey finished with 16 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter. After the game, she admitted that achieving the milestone was a weight off her shoulders.
“I really did try to block it out, but I could feel everyone rooting for me,” she said. “Relief is really the only word to describe it.”
The tension in the crowd was palpable on earlier free throw attempts that Carey missed while only one point away from the mark.
The Lady Baymen took awhile to put away Mattituck, struggling at times in the first three quarters. Forward Andrea Tufano, an excellent rebounder and shot blocker who is a game-changer for Hampton Bays, was saddled with foul trouble and forced to sit for the entire second quarter and much of the first. When she returned in the third quarter, she quickly picked up her fourth foul and had to sit again. Although Hampton Bays got off to a good start, leading, 12-2, to start the game, Mattituck battled back and faced just a 27-22 halftime deficit, and even cut the lead to 27-25 early in the third.
While Carey garnered most of the spotlight for the night, however, eighth-grade guard Alexis Fotopoulos was just as important in sealing the win for Hampton Bays. She led all scorers with 23 points, putting her impressive long-range shooting skills on display. She hit five three-pointers in the game, and they were timely ones too. She connected from beyond the arc with 2:48 left in the third quarter to put her team up 35-29, and hit another three with 33 seconds left in the third that gave Hampton Bays a 39-32 edge.
After the game, Carey said her team didn’t panic when Mattituck made its runs and instead relied on the confidence that comes with being the favorite and having home court advantage.
“I think we just started to realize that we were on our home court and we’ve worked so hard in the offseason to get here,” she said. “We know we’re a tough team, and we weren’t going to let them beat us.”
It was clear throughout the game that Carey wasn’t going to let her team settle for anything less than a win. She was her usual vocal self, even more so perhaps, giving directions and encouragement to her teammates throughout the game and never relenting in her intensity level.
“It’s so exciting,” she said of making it to the championship game. “The last time we went, I was in eighth grade and barely played. I feel like this is my team now.”
Hampton Bays head coach Pat McGunnigle said that of the two achievements Carey was part of on Saturday—her 1,000th career point and the playoff win—the latter is unquestionably the most important to her.
“She’s the leader of the team and she just has the type of personality you fall in love with,” he said. “She’s a team person and was concerned that we win; she doesn’t really care about the 1,000 points. In the last three years, she’s worked almost every day, and she’s become quite a player.”