Welcome to Floral Park girls basketball. Leave your selfish play at the door.
That’s part of the message coach Mike Spina preaches to his players throughout the season. The team’s motto “B.E.T.H,” stands for balance, abandoning egos, trusting teammates and playing with heart, he said.
As far as mottos go, there couldn’t be a more accurate one to describe the Knights’ 62-53 victory over Islip in the Long Island Class A championship Saturday afternoon at St. Joseph’s College.
Kaela Hilaire, Long Island’s leading scorer at 30.4 points a game, totaled 26 points — 16 on free throws — but made her biggest contributions as a distributor with eight assists and defending, with seven steals.
“It was really frustrating, but going into the second half I realized I had to do something else,” said Hillaire, who had problems with her jump shot. “I stepped up on defense. My team picked it up on offense.”
Hilaire had nine of Floral Park’s 31 first-half points, while Natalie Hickman (11), Aideen Gill (eight) and MaryKate Guerriero (seven) picked up the slack.
A shot-for-shot first quarter resulted in a 13-13 tie. A 10-2 run by the Knights at the close of the first half gave Floral Park a 31-23 lead at the break.
Sanne van Poelgeest (23 points, 10 rebounds) scored 10 of Islip’s 13 points in the third-quarter, keeping the Buccaneers afloat. But Floral Park led 44-36 after three.
Islip’s first three field goals of the fourth were three-pointers as part of a 9-3 run — two from Julia Hande (20) and one from Taryn Ohlmiller (seven) — which cut Floral Park’s lead to 48-45.
With the Knights leading 55-50, Hilaire pulled up for three. She was bumped after the release, giving her three free-throw attempts with 1:39 remaining. Hilaire made all three, effectively icing the game.
Hickman and Hilaire made their most valuable contributions defensively. Spina said few believed in the Knights’ ability to defend Islip’s star forwards, 6-2 Meghan Oberg and 6-1 Poelgeest, in the post. Yet that’s what they did.
“It’s something that I knew I could handle,” Hickman said. “It was a challenge, for sure.”
Hilaire said that Oberg was the tallest player she’s ever defended. A 5-3 point guard, Hilaire used her footwork and quick hands to keep Oberg uneasy under the basket. Oberg was held to three points, though she grabbed 16 rebounds.
“This was all about balance and trusting your teammates,” Spina said. “Once we did that, you saw how dangerous we could be. We’re a real solid team. We’re not just a one-person team
Hilaire said she’s excited for the state championships at Hudson Valley CC next weekend, but remained focused on her goal.
“It’s a business trip,” she said. “We know that.”