Gillian Kenah saved her best performance for the second half of a game in which the Port Jefferson girls basketball team desperately needed a spark.
She was relatively quiet in the first half, but exploded for 10 of her 12 points in the second half of the Royals’ 43-30 win over Haldane in the state Class C Southeast Regional final Thursday night at SUNY-Old Westbury.
“I wanted to play as hard as I could,” said Kenah, a senior who averaged 3.1 points per game entering play. “I was thinking about wanting to leave it all on the court. This potentially could’ve been my last game I ever played in high school. I wanted to step up and do things I’ve never done before.”
Aside from providing scoring punch in the second half, Kenah was a force on the boards, grabbing 13 rebounds.
In a low-scoring game, Kenah provided just enough offense to reward a zone defense that closed on shooters and limited Haldane’s looks at the basket.
The Royals were aggressive but smart, jumping passing lanes and getting easy points in transition only when the opportunities were there.
“We played so tough on defense,” said Jillian Colucci, who had six points and five assists. “They’re such a scrappy team, and they played us tough. It was a low-scoring game, but as they say, defense wins championships, and we played great defense today.”
Port Jefferson’s five-point halftime lead was extended to nine after three quarters, and Courtney Lewis’ step-back jumper with 1:19 remaining gave the Royals their largest lead at 14 points. Lewis had 18 points despite struggling throughout with finishing near the basket.
“It’s awesome to have support, especially when everyone is collapsing on me,” Lewis, a senior, said. “I know I can kick it out to someone and be confident that they’ll do well.”
The Port Jefferson student section added to the blissful celebration after the game when students with “J-P-R-O-M-?” painted on their backs asked Lewis to the junior prom for their friend, who showed support by brandishing a cardboard cutout of Lewis’ face throughout the game. She accepted.
Each game Port Jefferson has played since Feb. 11 has made history, and the blissful moments just keep coming. First it was the program’s first county title since 1927. Then its first Long Island championship. Now it’s the Royals’ first trip to the state Final Four, which will be March 17-19 at Hudson Valley CC in Troy.
“We don’t think about these things Day 1 of practice,” Kenah said. “You just go as hard as you can, and it pays off. I’m just so happy to be doing it with this group of girls.”
And now they have another chance to continue making history.