At times, Kristy Vitucci's assistant coach tends to be very hard on her.
"I've always told her that I am the toughest coach you're ever going to have," Deer Park assistant coach Holly O'Donnell said. "Whatever I say will always be harsher than the next."
Call it tough love.
Actually, tough sisterly love.
O'Donnell, a former point guard at Deer Park, is Vitucci's older sister. When Vitucci had an unusually quiet first half Tuesday night, O'Donnell approached her in the locker room at halftime and told her to refocus and get her head in the game.
Vitucci listened, scoring 16 of her 21 points in the second half to propel Deer Park to a 55-41 win over host Bellport in a Suffolk League IV game.
With Deer Park up five, Vitucci drained a three-pointer to extend the lead to 49-41 with 2:23 left. She then converted a layup in transition, and on the next possession, broke the press and drove the lane for the easy hoop to seal the win.
"I just kept my head on straight like she said," Vitucci said. "I wasn't really feeling it in the first or second quarter but then I picked it up."
Victoria Major, a sophomore forward in her first year on varsity, added eight points and a season-high 24 rebounds.
"My strategy is just to keep an eye on the ball," Major said. "If the shot looks short, I stay close. If it looks long, I go farther out. Plus, I'm pretty fast."
The Deer Park defense kept Bellport's Arella Guirantes out of the lane and off the foul line through ball denial and heavy pressure. The leading scorer on Long Island, coming off a stretch in which she scored 38 or more points in five of her previous six games, was "held" to 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Midway through the third, Guirantes drained a straightaway three from 4 feet behind the line to give Bellport a 27-24 lead. She later went around a pick and converted the lefthanded layup plus the foul to increase the lead to six.
But Sabrina Grunseich, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds, helped fuel a 15-2 run by Deer Park to end the quarter. She hit a jumper from the elbow, then intercepted a pass and went coast to coast for the layup. Vitucci then hit a runner off the glass with eight seconds left to cap the run for a 39-32 lead.
"We played our best on the defensive end," Grunseich said, "which is where we needed to be on point."
Also on point was some sisterly advice at halftime. "She's very tough on me, and I take it," Vitucci said of O'Donnell. "But it makes me play better."