For two years, the Northport girls basketball team fundraised for a five-day Christmas break trip to Florida for three games against top competition and a pass to Universal Theme park. They shared hotel rooms, ate meals together and toured the attractions.

They lost all three games, but the Tigers returned home with a gift.

“[The competition] made us realize that we have to be better than we are,” said coach Rich Castellano, describing losses to Spring-Ford (Pa.), West Orange (Fla.) and defending New York state public schools champion Ossining. “I thought we played pretty well, but what we took from that is how much harder we have to work when we go back to Long Island.

“I said to them, if you play with the intensity you had in Florida, then then no one is going to beat you.”

Fast forward three weeks and the Tigers have won six straight games, including five straight to begin Suffolk III play after a 73-37 home win over Huntington on Saturday. Kelly McLaughlin and Kerry Dennin each scored eight points in a 22-4 first quarter for the Tigers.

“We played against amazing competition [in Florida], teams that had such a high level of intensity that we haven’t seen on Long Island, and we had to match that in order to stay in those games,” McLaughlin said. “We did an incredible job of that and it showed us that we could play with anybody, even though we didn’t come out with wins.”

When Northport (10-3, 5-0) noticed Huntington’s energy during warmups and to start the game on Saturday, that was the cue.

“They were very energetic warming up and that motivated us to go out there and just make them quiet from the very start,” said Danielle Pavinelli, who had seven points and seven assists. “Once we got up by a couple and [the Huntington] coach was calling timeouts, we continued to say just keep going on them, get a bigger lead and don’t let them get into the game.”

After Huntington (8-5, 3-3) started the second quarter on a 6-0 run, Tess Maline scored five straight to make it 27-10. Northport finished the half on a 15-2 run after Pavinelli darted a pass inside to Allison Soule for a bucket in the final minute to give Northport a 37-12 halftime lead.

“We had to answer their intensity,” Castellano said. “We saw the way they came in and how they warmed up, but we know we just have to match everything a team throws at us ... That’s what’s most important.”

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