Riverhead girls pursue a state title
After every step by Jalyn Brown, another pen was thrust in front of her for an autograph following Riverhead's win over Baldwin in the Long Island Class AA girls basketball championship last week. Even a half-hour after the game, the still euphoric fans were still seeking autographs.
Riverhead won its first Long Island championship and will play in the state semifinals for the first time Friday night.
"The fans have been great," said Brown, a senior point guard. "The community has given us so much support."
Said Riverhead coach Dave Spinella: "It was a fun week. They're not getting big heads. It's big for the community. We had a pep rally before we left."
Riverhead (23-1) begins its quest for a state title tonight at 6:15 p.m. against Penfield (23-0) in a state Class AA semifinal at Hudson Valley Community College. The Blue Wave opened the season with a loss to Glenn, which is playing in the state Class A semifinals, and have since won 23 straight.
Riverhead, which averages 61 points, is led by the trio of Brown, junior guard Shanice Allen and senior forward Melodee Riley. Brown is averaging 15 points and six assists in the playoffs, while Allen is averaging 15 points and three steals.
Riley, who is going to UConn for track, has really elevated her play in the postseason. She averaged 13 points in the regular season and is averaging 18.9 points, 11 rebounds and three steals in the playoffs to earn the Most Valuable Player of the Section XI tournament.
"This is the best I have ever seen her play," Allen said. "For us to win, all three of us have to play a big game. It's a team effort."
Junior forward Kaila-Riane Nazario scored 11 points in the 56-50 win over Baldwin, hitting some clutch late free throws. Marta Czaplak rounds out the starting five and is a threat from three-point range.
For Penfield, Margot Hetzke, a 5-11 sophomore forward, averages 17.5 points, Michelle Nesselbush averages 9.8 and Megan Malloy 8.9.
If Riverhead advances to the finals tomorrow night, the Blue Wave will be a huge underdog. The other side of the bracket has two of the best teams in the state as Cicero-North Syracuse takes on Ossining.
Cicero-North (19-3) features 6-4 senior Breanna Stewart, who will play at UConn next season. She is the Gatorade National Player of the Year and the Naismith Player of the Year as the nation's top high school player. Stewart is averaging 25.7 points and 13.1 rebounds.
Ossining (23-0) averages more than 88 points per game and is led by junior phenom Saniya Chong, who averages 33 points and recently scored her 2,000th career point.
"We hadn't won a county championship in almost 30 years," Allen said. "That was one step. Winning Long Island is another step. The competition upstate is going to be a lot tougher. It's was good to get a tough test from Baldwin before we go up."