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Northport's aggressive defense, quick transition produce a Suffolk overall championship

Northport's Kelly Mclaughlin, who scored 10 points,

Northport's Kelly Mclaughlin, who scored 10 points,  goes between Westhampton's Olivia Rongo and Isabelle Smith in the fourth quarter.  Credit: Bob Sorensen

The Northport girls basketball team proved the cliché true — defense does win championships.

Sparked by a strong man-to-man attack and a quick transition game, the Tigers hit their stride early and never looked back, defeating Westhampton 72-45 in the Suffolk overall championship at Ward Melville on Thursday night.

It’s the first overall title for Northport since 2006.

“What worked today was our fast break and our help defense,” said senior forward Kerry Dennin, who finished with 13 points. “We were confident. (Both teams) earned being here, so we knew nothing was going to be given to us, but we were on the same page.”

Northport’s 13-1 run midway through the first quarter helped the Tigers set the tone, jumping out to a 17-10 lead after the opening eight minutes. Northport forced double-digit turnovers in the first half and when Westhampton did get a shot off, it was often one-and-done as Northport (22-2) crashed the boards before sprinting up the court.

The Tigers took a 36-16 lead into halftime, holding the Hurricanes (22-3) scoreless in the final three minutes off the second.

“You need to set your own tempo to be successful and we were able to do that by pushing in transition,” senior guard Kelly McLaughlin said. “They weren’t able to get back with us sometimes.”

With the defense firing, Northport spread the ball out in the second half. The Tigers didn’t bat an eyelash when Westhampton switched to zone, continuing to find the basket. And, with 3:18 left in the third, senior guard Danielle Pavinelli capped a 15-5 run to give Northport a 51-21 lead.

“We can play against both types of defense, which is definitely a big part of why we’re a good team,” Dennin said. “We pride ourselves (on that).”

Senior forward Layla Mendoza was a bright spot for Westhampton, scoring 17 points. Northport coach Rich Castellano credited Mendoza for her play, adding that the Tigers’ defense focused on slowing down her and fellow senior Belle Smith.

“We knew we had to stop (Smith), she’s like the Energizer bunny,” Castellano said. “We did a good job on Mendoza early…but she was a force. We could bend, but didn’t break.”

Pavinelli led all scorers with 19 points, while Sophia Yearwood added 13 points and McLaughlin had 10 points.

Northport now turns its attention to the Long Island Class AA championship, taking on either Syosset or Baldwin, on Sunday, March 15 at St. Joseph’s College.

“This is a really special group of girls,” McLaughlin said. “There’s no other team that I’ve played on that I would want to be going this far and being this successful with.”

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