Whitman’s Paige Hiller hits a layup for two of her...

Whitman’s Paige Hiller hits a layup for two of her 11 points as Floyd’s Shy Hawkins defends on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. Credit: George A Faella

It’s not always the player receiving the majority of the accolades or the ones coaches emphasize containing in the game plan that makes the defining plays on the road to a championship.

Paige Hiller was that player for Whitman on Tuesday.

The sophomore, who comes off the bench, hit two three-pointers and two foul shots in the final two minutes of the second quarter as Whitman turned a six-point deficit into a four-point lead heading into halftime. During the majority of the half, Hiller was also playing stout defense on Floyd standout Shy Hawkins, who is committed to play at Syracuse.

That stretch proved pivotal as No. 3 Whitman defeated No. 2 Floyd, 49-42, in the Suffolk Class AAA girls basketball semifinals at Ward Melville on Tuesday evening.

“Coming off the bench, I just wanted to go into the game and show them what I had,” Hiller said. “I think it was really good for us. We had the momentum and nothing was going to stop us.”

Whitman (19-3) advances to play top-seeded Commack in the Suffolk Class AAA final at 5 p.m. on Sunday at Suffolk CCC-Selden. The Wildcats are seeking back-to-back county crowns.

Top-seeded Commack (22-0) defeated No. 4 Northport (16-6), 45-43, Tuesday night.

The Wildcats closed the final 3:15 of the second quarter on a 12-2 run to open a 26-22 lead at halftime. Hiller scored eight of the 12 points during that stretch.

“Paige is not afraid of the moment,” coach Dan Trebour said. “For a 10th grader coming off the bench, she is a gamer. And on defensive possessions, she was on Hawkins, so she just had herself a game. She made some really big shots.”

Hiller led Whitman with 11 points in a balanced scoring effort. Kathleen O'Mara and Madison Richter each added 10 points and Iris Hoffman scored eight points, including knocking down two foul shots with 24 seconds left to give Whitman a 48-42 advantage. Hawkins had 18 points for Floyd.

“They are a very physical, aggressive and athletic team,” Hoffman said. “They are all over the court, it’s hard to get open shots. But when we were able to get some, we were able to knock them down.”

Whitman fell to Floyd (20-2) twice during the regular season. Those losses added additional motivation for the defending Suffolk champions.

“The energy was just through the roof for us,” Hoffman said. “We went on a bunch of runs, they went on a bunch of runs, but we were able to pull through toward the end and I think all that anger and frustration of losing to them twice did it.”

Whitman opened a 40-34 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Floyd cut Whitman’s lead to 44-42 after back-to-back three-pointers by Hawkins and Jacky Sutherland with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter.

Richter finished a layup off an assist from O’Mara to give Whitman a 46-42 lead with 2:10 left as the Wildcats scored the final five points of the contest.

Whitman won the Suffolk Class AA championship last season before moving up to Class AAA this year after the introduction of the classification by the state public high school association this school year.

“I wouldn’t have been disappointed in the girls at all, but it would have been disappointing to not get back to (the final) with the team that I think we are,” Trebour said. “It’s exciting to get back there and the kids deserve it.”

“We had a lot of fun doing it last year, so why not do it again,” Hoffman said. “It’s going to take a lot of effort, a lot of hard work, but we’ve been to that stage before. It’s going to be a battle.”

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