For three quarters, Wantagh and Garden City were caught up in a low-scoring, back-and-forth game. Then one play by Wantagh point guard Nikki Sliwak began to change everything.
With the score tied in the third, Sliwak went end to end and hit a running layup at the buzzer, sparking a monumental run that would carry Wantagh to the Conference A-I girls basketball title.
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The Warriors scored 22 unanswered points through the first 6:51 of the fourth quarter and beat Garden City, 56-37, Monday night.
"I knew there were only a couple seconds left, so I just drove to the rim and got it done," Sliwak said of her layup that made it 32-30. "I feel like that's what got us going."
Wantagh (13-3, 11-0) earned its first conference championship since 2007.
"It feels great, especially winning on our home court. That's where the girls wanted to do it," an emotional coach Stan Bujacich said. "I have tears of joy for these girls."
Alex Parlato was the one constant for Wantagh throughout, as the 6-3 sophomore dominated the paint and was smart with the ball, setting career highs with 25 points and 18 rebounds.
In the midst of Wantagh's 22-0 spurt, Christina Peden's three-pointer gave the Warriors the first double-digit lead of the game at 41-30. Parlato's putback off a missed free throw made it 44-30 with about five minutes to play.
Demi Valenti then got hot, scoring nine of her 11 points in the fourth to propel Wantagh to a 52-30 advantage with 2:09 left.
Sam Auricchio scored 16 points to lead Garden City (12-4, 9-2).
"This was an amazing game," Parlato said. "Everyone played great, we played as a team and I thought I brought it myself, too."
Wantagh led 22-20 at halftime, as Parlato had 17 points at the break and 13 of Wantagh's 14 points in the first quarter. She showed an ability to score with her back to the basket, and was a key, along with Sliwak, in helping break down Garden City's full-court pressure. Parlato served as a tall target when Wantagh's guards were trapped with the ball.
"Parlato takes care of the ball for us, Sliwak held her composure and Valenti made shots," Bujacich said. "Our composure took over in the fourth quarter and it was a great win."