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Nicole Bianco's buzzer-beater lifts Kings Park to Suffolk III basketball championship

Kings Park guard Nicole Bianco drives the outside

Kings Park guard Nicole Bianco drives the outside between two East Islip defenders in the Suffolk Conference III girls basketball final on Sunday, February 28, 2021, at East Islip High School. Credit: George A Faella

It’s unlikely that Kings Park’s Nicole Bianco thought she’d be in this position a month and a half ago. With basketball deemed too high a risk to play at the high school level, it appeared as if her prep hardwood years were gone. With this realization, she turned her attention to track.

But time is funny. Basketball was given the green light to play a tremendously truncated season in late January, and all of a sudden, there was Bianco, on the final day of February, with a look at a game-winner in the conference championship game — her senior season not only intact, but immortalized.

With every disappointment of an almost lost season on her shoulders, she didn’t miss.

Bianco stepped inward on the right wing above the foul line, pulled back and sunk the winner as time expired in Kings Park’s 42-41 win over host East Islip in the Suffolk Conference III girls championship game Sunday afternoon.

"Kelly [Jette] passed me the ball from the inbounds and I happened to be very open because Dana [Menier] set a good screen . . . I knew that I wasn’t going to drive and I had to take the shot. It was definitely [an open shot]. There weren’t a bunch of hands in front of me. I don’t know if I was expecting it to go in, but once it did, everyone ran on the court. It was an experience to remember."

Jaxie Cestone led the Kingsmen with 15 points. Bianco had 10 and Maryellen Gilchriest added nine. East Islip’s Jess Peluso led all scorers with 21.

The buzzer-beater capped off a frantic final six seconds. After Kings Park (7-1) missed a free throw trailing by one point, East Islip (6-1) appeared to have possession off an out-of-bounds play. But, after a referee conference, it was determined that a whistle had blown inadvertently, leaving the ball in the unforgiving graces of the possession arrow, which pointed toward Kings Park and led to Bianco’s big shot.

"When the ref blew his whistle early, we thought something else happened," said Erin Tourto, whose three-pointer with 13 seconds left drew the Kingsmen to within one point. "When [East Islip] went to go take it out we [thought] we just had to get a quick steal. None of us gave up. We knew what we had to do, even if [East Islip] took it out."

Kings Park’s start was inauspicious. They fell behind 11-4 late in the first quarter after a 6-0 East Islip run and was trailing 21-6 with 1:28 left in the first half. But the Kingsmen closed on a 5-0 run to cut their deficit to 10.

"It really pumped us up," Cestone said of the run. "We saw an opportunity and just wanted to keep it going."

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