Samantha Muller just couldn’t miss.
The 5-10 sophomore was relentless in finding the bottom of the net in the first few minutes of Saturday’s game, scoring the first nine points for the North Babylon girls basketball team in its 71-61 win over St. John the Baptist in the Bulldogs’ Hoops 2 Remember tournament at Robert Moses Middle School.
Muller scored 19 of her 26 points in the first half – missing just one shot in the process – and scored five-straight points in the last 90 seconds of the game on a three-pointer from the right corner and a putback lay-in two possessions later.
Those baskets turned a 65-60 lead into a much less stressful 70-60 advantage with 40.8 seconds remaining.
“I was amazed,” senior center Raiana Brown said of Muller’s performance. “ . . . I was proud of her.”
Muller said once she gets on a roll, every shot seems like it’s going to drop.
“I just have confidence in every one of my shots, and I just have confidence in my teammates that if I do miss, they’re going to fix it up,” she said.
Brown cleaned up a few misses and had 18 points. Sofie Tsavaris had 13 points, two of which came on a jumper in rhythm for a 63-57 lead with 3:08 remaining. Brown followed that basket with a layup on the next possession.
Down three key players to injury in Cara McCormack, Abby Gress and Kelly Kuhner, St. John the Baptist (1-5) put forth one of its best games of the young season.
“We have some role players playing huge minutes for us right now, and they’re doing it,” Cougars coach Kate Gordon said.
The Cougars were even with North Babylon (4-0) at 18 apiece at the end of the first quarter, then held a 20-18 lead on Kathleen Maguire’s jumper just inside the three-point line. North Babylon fought back in the second quarter and increased its halftime lead to 44-32 on Destiny Schook’s three-pointer.
Still, SJB upped its intensity in the second half to play an up-tempo style on both ends. The Cougars trapped the ballhandler everywhere and earned transition baskets.
Allie Ponzio (18 points) cut the deficit to 65-61 when she made both free throws with 2:25 remaining, but that was as close as the Cougars could come. Jennifer Gaffney scored 10 points for SJB.
The Bulldogs have the talent to make a serious run at a Suffolk Class AA championship. Outside shooting and an inside presence in Brown make them a well-rounded group, but beating the press will be imperative to how far they can go.
“Teams are going to rush us, and they know, under pressure, we might be a little frazzled,” Brown said. “If we just move the ball, and no dribbling during presses, we’ll get through.”