Maliyah Johnson of Copiague puts up the layup during a...

Maliyah Johnson of Copiague puts up the layup during a Suffolk League I girls basketball game against Smithtown West in Copiague on Monday, January 23, 2023. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

Even the players on the Copiague girls basketball team will say they didn’t see a season like this on the horizon.

Copiague defeated visiting Smithtown West, 50-41, on Monday in a Suffolk League I girls basketball game to improve to 12-3 overall and 11-2 in league play.

After going winless in the COVID-shortened 2021 season and winning only five games last year, the Eagles couldn’t have imagined amassing this many victories.

When asked if they expected these results, Maliyah Johnson and Destiny Johnson simply said “no” with a laugh.

“I really didn’t,” said Destiny, who scored 15 points. “But our coaches encourage us and that’s what’s been keeping us going to have the record we have now.”

“I think we work together better as a team this year,” said Maliyah, who had 23 points. “Our confidence went up a lot since the beginning of the season. It has helped us a lot.”

Copiague coach Kia Wright said she saw a focused core of players in the offseason, determined to be the group to turn the program around.

“I think we have more dedicated girls that are loving basketball, loving the process and loving to see the growth within themselves and this program,” Wright said. “And that’s key when you have players that truly love the game.”

But even Wright said she wasn’t quite sure it would result in this strong a season for her team.

“I didn’t know what to expect this season, but they’re making me very proud,” she said. “I don’t want to go in thinking, ‘This is a playoff or championship team.’ They are just taking it one day at a time and they are doing very well.’’

Kayla Pardini had 11 points for Smithtown West (7-8, 6-7), which scored the first five points of the second half to take a 24-22 lead. Copiague responded with a 9-1 run in the final five minutes of the third quarter to go ahead 31-25.

In the fourth quarter, Smithtown West cut Copiague’s lead to 33-32 with 6:04 remaining. The Eagles answered with a 12-2 run in the next 2 minutes, 30 seconds to take a 45-34 lead with just over three minutes left.

Maliyah Johnson scored nine of her 23 points in the final quarter.

“That was huge,” Wright said. “Maliyah had 23 for us, and without that happening, I’m afraid this game doesn’t turn out in our favor. She was hitting some key shots down the stretch for us. She was very impressive, and I think she needed this game big-time.”