Erin Leary needed just 23 seconds of game time in the fourth quarter to completely change the demeanor of the Carle Place girls basketball team.
With Carle Place trailing to an Oyster Bay team it had easily handled twice this season, Leary made a three-pointer to tie the score, then emphatically swatted a shot on the other end before running the court and converting a layup, igniting a once-despondent bench into a frenzy.
She scored nine straight points and 12 of her 22 points in the deciding fourth quarter, leading No. 1 Carle Place to a 59-46 win over No. 2 Oyster Bay in the Nassau Class B girls basketball final Thursday at SUNY Old Westbury. Leary also had 18 rebounds and 10 blocks.
Carle Place plays Mattituck in the Long Island Class B championship on March 7 at Suffolk CCC-Brentwood at 5 p.m. but first will play Class C champion East Rockaway in the Nassau Small Schools final on March 1.
“We all got down at a point because we knew that we were losing, but we knew we could step it up,” said Leary, a 5-10 freshman who kick-started a 16-0 run to start the fourth quarter. “My coach told me I had to step up, take over the game. I just listened.”
Oyster Bay (8-13) led for nearly all of the first three quarters and held its largest lead after Elizabeth Reilly’s three-pointer made the score 31-26 with less than a minute left in the second quarter.
Carle Place (15-6) stuck around, taking a brief lead in the third quarter before entering the fourth quarter trailing 42-39. That’s when Leary took over, aided by junior Giana McKeough.
“Early on, I just feel like our energy was kind of low, but we picked it up right away as soon as we could,” said McKeough, who had 13 points. “I feel like our energy level was just completely different because we were so amped up to be in the lead.”
Gianna Gotti finished her five-year varsity career at Oyster Bay with a 17-point performance. Carle Place coach Mike Bello said he was most nervous about a situation in which she would have the ball in her hands with a chance to win the game, so he was happy Leary gave the Frogs breathing room.
“Since the first day of practice, I said, ‘Erin, when you want to, you’re the best player on the court. Sometimes you have to forget about what grade you’re in and just play basketball,’ ” Bello said. “You saw that today. You saw the athlete, the animal, she has within.”