The Longwood girls basketball program has waited nearly two decades hoping to secure its second-ever Suffolk county title.
Following their performance Tuesday night, they’ll have an opportunity to capture that elusive championship on Friday.
“This is what we’ve been working for,” said Nyia Longford, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds for No. 1 Longwood in a 54-47 victory over visiting No. 5 Half Hollow Hills East in a Suffolk AA semifinal. “It’s a big accomplishment for us.”
Longwood (20-2), which last won the county title in Class A in 2000, according to coach James Castiglione, will face Northport in the county final at 7 p.m. at Whitman. The Lions defeated Northport, 48-45, on Dec. 22.
“It’s about surviving and advancing at this point,” Castiglione said. “It’s the first time since 2006 we’ve been in a county final so it’s nice to be relevant again. We’re going to prepare and hopefully we can get one.”
“We have to have great intensity,” said Kanesha Strider, who added 10 points for Longwood and made a three-pointer from the right wing to give the Lions a 21-13 halftime advantage. “We can’t sleep on anyone. We have to come at them with everything we have.”
A layup by Taydra Simpson at the 3:13 mark of the third quarter gave Longwood its largest lead of the night at 39-18. She played a crucial role with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Back-to-back threes from Alyssa Studdert gave Hills East (20-3) a jolt of energy and cut the deficit to 47-42 with 1:33 remaining, capping off a 24-8 run.
Strider helped regain momentum for Longwood, however, as she converted a free throw on the ensuing possession and followed with a steal at half-court and a three-point play on the other end to make it 51-42 with 57 seconds to go.
The Lions entered the fourth quarter ahead by 17 points before the Thunderbirds fought their way back with Sophia Tawil leading the way, scoring 13 of her 20 points in the period.
“I told them to stay composed and stick with the game plan,” Castiglione said. “We knew they would hit some shots. I didn’t think they’d come like that, but we pulled it out.”
Simpson is confident that the county title drought could be over Friday night.
“I think we can go all the way,” Simpson said. “I think we can finish it out as long as we play good team basketball.”