Kaylee Graham #4 of Bellport, center, celebrates with teammates Brynn...

Kaylee Graham #4 of Bellport, center, celebrates with teammates Brynn Johnsen #12, left, and Autumn Simon #0 as the Clippers close in on victory over top-seeded Half Hollow Hills East in the Suffolk County girls basketball Class AA semifinals at Walt Whitman High School on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. Credit: James Escher

The Bellport girls basketball team saw its 11-point third-quarter lead turn into a tie game with three minutes left against Half Hollow Hills East.

But the Clippers did not flinch.

“I’m just telling myself we’re in this,” Bellport's Autumn Simon said. “We’re here for a reason. I’m just telling everybody, ‘Let’s just keep it going, don’t give up.’”

Brynn Johnsen hit a layup, Simon hit two layups and Kaylee Graham hit a free throw as Bellport’s lead stretched back to seven with 1:24 left. The fifth-seeded Clippers’ late-game push was enough to hold off No. 1 Hills East for a 54-43 win in the Suffolk Class AA semifinals at Whitman High School Monday night.

“I’m almost speechless,” Bellport coach Rynese Smith said. “My girls locked in and they did it.”

Simon scored 18 points, Johnsen scored 16 points and Graham scored 12 points. Monday marked Simon’s 10th game and Johnsen’s ninth game with at least 15 points.

In search of its first county title in program history, Bellport (16-6) will face No. 2 Westhampton in the championship at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Suffolk County Community College in Selden.

Smith, who celebrated her 31st birthday Monday night, graduated from Bellport in 2011 and played for Suffolk from 2012-14.

“It’s crazy to come back and coach for my alma mater,” Smith said. “And then now, I went to Suffolk and will be playing a championship game there. My mind is blown.”

Smith is in her fifth season on Bellport’s staff and her second as a head coach. The Clippers went just 3-17 in Smith’s first year.

Graham hit a half-court shot at the first-half buzzer to give Bellport a 25-19 halftime lead, which it extended to 32-21 with 5:36 left. Hills East (16-6) rattled off an 18-7 stretch to tie the game at 39 with 4:33 left. The game was knotted at 41 until Johnsen’s layup gave Bellport a 43-41 lead with 2:18 left.

Hills East cut it to 48-43 with 1:15 left on a tough two for Alex Brown, who had 10 points, but would not get closer. Rose Azmoudeh scored 17 points for Hills East, finishing her senior season with 579 total points and an average of 26.3 points.

Bellport and Hills East split their two games in the regular season, with each team winning on the other’s home floor. The Clippers beat No. 4 Comsewogue, 51-39, in the quarterfinals last Friday and will face Westhampton for the first time this season.

“It’s history,” Smith said. “You see our fans show up, all of our family members. … We all want it bad.

“To be a part of history for Bellport will be phenomenal.”

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