Northport coach Rich Castellano said he could tell Danielle Pavinelli was a step slower than usual. But with a brace on her right ankle, Pavinelli powered through an injury sustained four days prior and willed the Tigers through a back-and-forth slugfest.
She had 20 points, six assists, four rebounds and four steals as the second-seeded Tigers defeated No. 3 Ward Melville, 61-56, in a Suffolk Class AA girls basketball semifinal in front of packed Northport gymnasium on Tuesday night.
Her driving layup with 7:13 left in the fourth quarter gave Northport a 51-49 lead, and the Tigers held on from there — even if the finish was a nail-biter.
Noelle Richardson made two free throws with 5:32 remaining, cutting Northport’s lead to 53-52. The Tigers (21-2) responded with a 6-0 spurt — capped by Pavinelli’s runner from the free-throw line — and took a 59-52 lead.
Ward Melville (20-3) cut it to 59-56 on a pair of free throws from Lauren Hansen with 42.8 seconds left, but Northport hung on. Kerry Dennin (11 points, eight rebounds) scored eight second-half points, and Kelly McLaughlin (14 points) was a key defensively.
“This is just a start,” said Northport senior Hannah Stockman, who had 10 points and seven rebounds. “We’re going to go as far as we can, and I really think tonight gave us that little push.”
Northport will play No. 1 Longwood in the county championship on Friday at 7 p.m. at Whitman.
A high-scoring first half had Ward Melville ahead, 37-36, behind 22 points from Hansen. The Auburn-bound senior had 33 points in her final varsity game but was held to 11 points in the second half when Northport utilized a rotating, trapping press that mostly kept the ball out of her hands.
The different look left Ward Melville’s potent offense unsettled, and Northport capitalized.
“I thought earlier, when we lost to Longwood, the comment that I made to my assistant was that I don’t think we know how to win,” Castellano said. “Then we lost to Hills East and we weren’t ready, and it looked like the same thing. We had to learn how to win close games.”
Pavinelli, a junior, said she rolled her ankle after landing awkwardly late in Northport’s quarterfinal win over Whitman on Friday. Castellano said Pavinelli’s parents took her for X-rays that night and then to physical therapy the next morning.
He wasn’t sure she’d play after she sat out practice Saturday and practiced by herself Sunday, but she participated in all non-contact drills on Monday.
“I knew I was playing even the night that I got hurt,” Pavinelli said. “There was nothing that was going to let me not play this game. I knew how much I wanted to be out there, and I didn’t want to let my team down if I didn’t play tonight.”