Shoreham-Wading River guard GraceAnn Leonard hits the jump shot for...

Shoreham-Wading River guard GraceAnn Leonard hits the jump shot for two points against West Babylon in the Suffolk Class A semifinals on Wednesday at Centereach. Credit: George A Faella

GraceAnn Leonard had a bag of ice wrapped around her right hip and earned every cube in there.

Leonard, who hit the hardwood three times during the final 45 seconds of the girls basketball Suffolk Class A semifinals, intercepted an inbounds pass before being fouled with 3.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter to preserve a 53-51 victory for top-seeded Shoreham-Wading River over No. 4 West Babylon at Centereach High School on Wednesday afternoon. She had two steals and a defensive rebound in the final 45 seconds.

“I want to be aggressive in times like that and get steals when we really need it,” said Leonard, who had 11 points and seven steals. “I will dive for the ball and do whatever it takes for the team to win.”

One of those steals set up the winning basket. Juliana Mahan finished a layup off an assist from Sophie Costello with 25.7 seconds left to break the tie at 51. Leonard made a clean steal on a reach at midcourt and dove on the loose ball before a Shoreham-Wading River timeout and the winning basket.

“I just saw the shot and knew I had to take it,” Mahan said. “I didn’t want to leave with regrets.”

Shoreham-Wading River (22-0) plays No. 2 Kings Park (19-2) in the Suffolk Class A final at Stony Brook University Saturday at noon. Lacey Downey had 21 points and five steals and Jaelynn Burgess, a seventh grader, added 17 points for West Babylon (16-5).

Mahan, who is averaging 8.5 points per game, matched her season high with 18 points. She knew her 6-foot size could create mismatches against a smaller West Babylon team.

“I needed to be big for my team,” Mahan said. “I saw the advantage down low and I knew I had to bury it every time I got the ball. I said ‘I can’t miss,’ because that can be the difference in the game and sure enough, one shot at the end of that game was it.”

Shoreham-Wading River never trailed in the fourth quarter after closing the final 1:27 of the third quarter on a 6-0 run. Leonard had a steal at midcourt and finished a layup with 20 seconds left in the third to cap that run.

Sarah Caltabiano made a jumper with 1:12 left to tie the score at 51 for West Babylon before Mahan’s winning basket.

The Wildcats look to secure their first county title in program history on Saturday.

“We got where we wanted,” coach Adam Lievre said. “We thought we had a chance to get to counties and now we're there, so it just comes down to all their hard work during the year. They really locked in the fourth quarter and executed and I couldn’t be proude

Leonard was knocked to the floor three separate times in the final 45 seconds. The standout three-sport athlete says she enjoys the intensity of playing defense.

“That’s definitely my favorite part in all sports, I’d say,” Leonard said. “I get to work hard even if my shots aren’t falling, it doesn’t really matter. As long as I work hard on defense.”

Lievre said there are times he doesn’t even realize how impressive some of Leonard’s defensive plays are until he watches the video.

“It’s hard to even notice live, they look better in film,” he said. “I’ve seen it for five years now. She made these plays as an eighth grader but she’s able to get deflections and cause problems up top.”

Downey hit a three-pointer as time expired in the second quarter to tie the score at 26 entering halftime. West Babylon opened the third quarter on a 9-1 run before the Wildcats rallied to tie the score at 44 after the period.

With the Wildcats one victory away from history, Saturday can’t come soon enough.

“It’s just so exciting,” Mahan said. “I never thought I’d be here in this moment.”

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