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Feb 15, 2019 10:54 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Second-Half Surge Powers Westhampton Beach Girls Basketball To First Playoff Win In 14 Years

Westhampton Beach junior Isabelle Smith scored a team-high 17 points in last week's playoff victory at Glenn. DREW BUDD
Feb 18, 2019 2:53 PM

Historically, teams that go on to win championships are the hottest teams going into the postseason, or teams that have faced adversity throughout the season but have come out the other side in time for a playoff run. While it still has a few games to go before winning a Suffolk County Class A Championship, the Westhampton Beach girls basketball team certainly falls into that second category, and on Thursday, February 14, it took its first step to achieving that.

Behind a strong second-half surge that completely erased their 10-point halftime deficit, the sixth-seeded Lady Hurricanes defeated host and third-seeded Elwood/John Glenn, 49-33, to win their first playoff game since 2005, the same year the program won Suffolk and Long Island championships. The win advanced Westhampton Beach to the county semifinals at cross-town rival Eastport/South Manor on Saturday (see separate story).

Westhampton Beach head coach Katie Peters pointed to adversity the team faced this season as a big reason it was able to overcome its first-half follies. The Lady Canes lost junior starter Layla Mendoza to a season-ending injury early on and they had to find their way and re-adjust to playing without her. They were able to get back on track in the final games of the regular season.

“I think the adversity that this group has handled as a team throughout the season has helped in leaps and bounds for situations like this,” she said, after the game. “They’ve handled adversity, they’ve been on the losing side of adversity, so I think in order to learn from adversity and better handle the next time you face it, you have to see it, you have to feel it and you have to live it. I think this group together has done that and they pulled together.”

Whatever Westhampton Beach didn’t do right in the first half it more than made up for in the second half. It started with sticking to the game plan, which was to attack the basket and force Glenn into foul trouble. Not even a minute and a half into the third quarter, the Lady Canes were already in the bonus by forcing five fouls on the Lady Knights, which frustrated them and took them off their game.

Being in foul trouble that early put Glenn on its heels and allowed the Lady Canes to go on a 16-0 run and take the lead behind junior Isabelle Smith’s six consecutive points, the go-ahead basket coming on a layup halfway through the quarter. About a minute later, though, Smith picked up her fourth foul of the game and had to come out, but her young teammates picked up right where she left off. Freshman starter Olivia Rongo and sophomore Caroline Henke each scored key baskets to keep the Lady Canes’ run going. Alyssa Adomaites, one of the leading scorers in the county who finished with a game-high 18 points, ended Glenn’s scoring drought with a minute remaining in the quarter, but the damage had already been done. Behind an 18-4 third quarter, Westhampton Beach had a 31-27 lead and kept that momentum going into the fourth, starting the frame with another 10-0 run that put the game out of reach for the Lady Knights.

Smith ended up scoring six of her team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter and was 7 of 8 from the free throw line. She also had five steals. Olivia Rongo scored five of her nine points in the second half and also grabbed 11 rebounds. Her older sister and the team’s lone senior, Lindsay Rongo, had six points and eight rebounds, and Henke scored six of her nine points in the second half; she also had 11 rebounds and five steals. Freshman Molly Skorobohaty scored four points in the fourth as well.

“Being down in the first half is a scary thing, but we’ve always been a third quarter team, we’ve always known we have to come out of that locker room and step it up, and I think a lot of our non-starters, a lot of our girls stepped it up,” Lindsay Rongo said. “It feels really good,” to be a part of the program’s first playoff victory in 14 years, she added. “I’ve been on the team for four years and it feels good to progress up to this.”

Smith said that she appreciated her teammates picking things up for her when she had to come out in the third quarter.

“I think that’s goes with the fact that we’re not a team of individuals,” she said. “We all play as a team, so when one person goes out for some reason, we all have the potential to step up, and that’s what we did. And part of that is we all have trust in one another, and when you have a team like that you’re basically unstoppable.”

Prior to Mendoza’s injury, Henke didn’t see much floor time, but since she’s been out, Henke is just one of a handful of girls who have been thrust into the varsity spotlight. She credited Smith for taking her under her wing this season and showing her the ropes.

“In the beginning of the season I never thought I’d be playing this much,” she explained. “Belle is such an amazing girl. I’ve come to know her so well, and playing with her comes so easy for me because she’s such an amazing player. It’s so easy to play with her on the court.

“In the beginning I was nervous, but she really brought that out of me [and] I feel so much more comfortable,” Henke added. “It was a really nice opportunity for me to step up.”

Peters brought up the fact that her team wasn’t mentioned in preseason rankings and polls and said she has used that to help fuel the team this season.

“That’s something we’ve talked about a lot of times throughout the season, ‘hey, we’re really not on anyone’s radar,’” she said. “But I think that’s something that we wanted to be and I think throughout the beginning of the season we more than proved that, that we belong here.”

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