The Sewanhaka girls basketball team suffered a crucial loss before stepping on the court Thursday night in a Nassau Class A semifinal against Island Trees, the undefeated top seed.
Carly Bolivar, one of Sewanhaka’s key players, was unable to play because of health reasons. The senior wing’s absence could have derailed the fourth-seeded Indians. Instead, it served as extra motivation.
Relentless defense, blinding speed and the unwillingness to be intimidated by Island Trees carried Sewanhaka to a 62-42 win at Farmingdale State, as Ashley Cattle (19 points), Flo Hunte (17) and Samirah Akinwunmi (12) sparked the Indians.
Sewanhaka (17-5) will play the Nassau Class A championship on Sunday against Wantagh at Farmingdale State.
“I felt a little pressure, but it always goes away in the beginning of the game,” said Hunte, who primarily serves as the team’s secondary scorer but had to step up without Bolivar. “I just know that my team is my team, and we’re always faced against adversity, so we just have to keep pushing through.”
Island Trees (21-1), which torched most of its opponents this winter, led 26-25 at halftime. Sewanhaka blitzed the Bulldogs to start the third quarter as Cattle scored three quick points and Hunte followed with four more, giving the Indians a 32-26 lead.
As Island Trees continued to press, Sewanhaka coach Alex Soupios adjusted. He put the ball in the hands of his fastest players, who broke through for easy baskets in transition.
“When you’re blessed with athletes like a Flo Hunte and a Samirah Akinwunmi, to be able to stretch the floor that way and make people chase you, it eventually wears them down,” Soupios said.
Sewanhaka’s game-changing third quarter gave the Indians breathing room, as they finished the period with a 45-36 lead. Island Trees cut it to 56-50 with 2:06 remaining on Cathryn Kramer’s lay-in, but Sewanhaka scored the next six points, sealing the win.
Kramer, who Soupios called a “polished, excellent big” was effectively neutralized on the boards by Mia Weinschreider, Nia Lariosa and Cattle. Lariosa, who started in place of Bolivar, also had eight points and five assists.
Akinwunmi was equally as important on defense. She face-guarded Brianna Fitzgerald, who entered play as Nassau’s second-leading scorer with 22.3 points per game. Fitzgerald scored 10 points, eight of which came in the third quarter.
Feeling “devastated” after the news came last minute that Bolivar wouldn’t play, Akinwunmi struggled to express how the upset happened.
“I don’t know,” she said. “We just believed in each other. Teamwork is always the word.”