It was the match-up they were waiting for all year.
When the Southampton girls basketball team lost to eventual state champion Irvington in the Class B regional final last year, disappointment was quickly replaced by determination. With their entire roster set to return, the Lady Mariners knew that, more than likely, they’d get another shot at the powerhouse team this season, with a trip to the state final four on the line.
That’s exactly what happened at Hofstra University on Friday night, but unfortunately for the Lady Mariners, they did not get the result they were looking for.
For the second straight year, Southampton fell just one game short of reaching the states, losing 62-41 to Irvington in the Class B Regional Final. The season-ending loss came 24 hours after the Lady Mariners claimed their second straight Long Island Class B Championship, coming from behind to beat Cold Spring Harbor, 42-35, at Hofstra on Thursday night. The game was originally scheduled for that Wednesday night, but was pushed back one day because of bad weather.
The battle was a rematch of last year’s Long Island final as well. Southampton made program history last year when it beat Cold Spring Harbor, winning the first ever Long Island title for the team, and defending that title was a big goal for the Lady Mariners this year.
They were down for nearly the entire game against Cold Spring Harbor, but outscored the Lady Seahawks 13-3 in the fourth quarter to secure the win. An 8-0 to start the fourth put Southampton ahead 37-32 with 4:23 left, and after Cold Spring Harbor scored inside to cut it to 37-34, Southampton senior Cassidy Guida drained a three-pointer with 1:38 left to give her team some breathing room with a 40-34 lead.
Senior Paris Hodges led Southampton with 10 points and seven rebounds, while senior Kesi Goree had eight points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Guida added eight points and Noelle Hodges had 10, while forward Dominique Taylor came off the bench to score four points and pull down 11 rebounds.
While the Lady Mariners were able to dig deep and find an extra reserve of energy to get past Cold Spring Harbor, Irvington simply had too much firepower. The one-two punch of senior center Lexi Martins and senior point guard Brittni Lai essentially delivered the knockout blow in the regional final. The pair combined for 40 of Irvington’s points, with Martins leading all scorers with 23.
Although the frustration of losing to the same team and at the same level as they did last year was evident on the faces of the Southampton players after the game, they were able to take some solace in the fact that they gave the Lady Bulldogs more of a run for their money than they did last year, when they lost 74-41 and the game was out of reach for most of the second half.
Despite being down 29-14 at halftime, the Lady Mariners battled back in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 35-25 after a pair of free throws by Goree with 5:38 left in the quarter. Southampton was playing well on defense during that stretch, and had several opportunities to cut the deficit to single digits, but failed to score on several possessions. And then, in the blink of an eye, Irvington went on a 9-1 run to close out the quarter and get back to a commanding lead, going into the fourth up 44-28.
After the game, Southampton head coach Juni Wingfield said he was mostly very happy with his players’ performance, but said their inability to beat Irvington came down to one factor: transition defense.
“We were doing exactly what we wanted to in the halfcourt,” he said, referring to his team’s successful use of a zone defense against the Lady Bulldogs. “But we were having lapses where they would get out on us in transition.”
Indeed, on more than one occasion, Martins corralled a defensive rebound and sent a perfect pass the length of the court to Lai, who was waiting right near the basket for a layup. Those passes looked more like a quarterback delivering the ball to a wide receiver in the end zone, and the Lady Mariners didn’t have time to catch up.
After the final buzzer, seniors Goree and Hodges took a few moments to wipe tears from their eyes but then spoke proudly of what they had accomplished in their long tenure with the program. Goree joined the varsity squad when she was just a seventh-grader, while Hodges has been on the team since she was in ninth grade. Both players scored their 1,000th career points this season and will be continuing their basketball careers in college; Goree at the New York Institute of Technology and Hodges at Brandeis University. They agreed that while it was tough to lose to Irvington again, they were prouder of their effort against the Lady Bulldogs the second time around.