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SportsHigh SchoolGirls Basketball

Brianna Fitzgerald leads undefeated Island Trees past Mineola

Brianna Fitzgerald of Island Trees, left, gets pressured

Brianna Fitzgerald of Island Trees, left, gets pressured by Sophie Schrader of Mineola on Jan. 12, 2019. Credit: James Escher

The Island Trees girls basketball team wanted to press the issue on Saturday afternoon.

The Bulldogs’ full-court defensive attack helped turn the tide against Mineola, forcing turnovers and sparking a 31-14 fourth quarter run en route to an 84-64 victory in Nassau A-V.

“We’d been getting nervous because [Mineola was] starting to come back,” said Brianna Fitzgerald, who finished with a game-high 36 points and 12 rebounds. “It was all about pushing the ball up the court, trying to run them out of the game.”

Island Trees (13-0, 5-0) brought pressure from the opening whistle, racking up 15 first-half turnovers and taking a 10-point lead into halftime, but Mineola (11-2, 2-2) refused to back down. The Mustangs rallied, wrapping up the third quarter on a six-point run to cut the lead to 53-50.

The Bulldogs didn’t panic. Instead, they settled back into their defensive game plan and answered Mineola’s push with one of their own, scoring nine straight points to open the fourth quarter.

“We want to play at a certain pace and we want to keep shooting the ball,” Island Trees coach Bob Kaible said. “If the defense plays well, it leads to easy offense.”

The Mustangs did their best to slow down the Bulldogs, switching up defenses and double-teaming Fitzgerald. Once again, though, Island Trees had an answer, spreading the ball out and showcasing a depth that Kaible said sets them apart from other teams in the conference.

“That’s our biggest advantage,” he said. “We have the top-end talent, but also having that bench that we can go to, that’s huge because we have a lot of kids that can come in and make plays.”

The Bulldogs took advantage of nearly every opportunity in the fourth quarter, turning defense into quick offense as six different players scored. It was a change of pace from the first half when Island Trees thought it left points on the court, forcing turnovers but struggling to consistently turn them into baskets.

“We wanted to keep it fast and keep them on their toes,” Fitzgerald said. “We realized with Mineola doubling me, we could easily get the other girls the ball for wide-open threes and they could knock them down.”

The Bulldogs’ defense continued to swarm the ball down the stretch, giving up just two field goals in the final four minutes to shut down the thought of any Mustangs comeback.

It was a confidence-boosting victory for Island Trees, sparked by the strong backcourt play of Fitzgerald and Madison McCormick, who finished with 20 points, but the Bulldogs have no intention of slowing down any time soon. This team wants to keep running and they’re determined to leave every opponent struggling to keep up.

“That’s one of the things we’ve talked about,” Kaible said. “We’ve got another tough game against Locust Valley [Tuesday], but we’ll always play as hard as we can.”

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