Lacey Downey didn’t forget – she couldn’t forget.
It was 2020 and Westhampton had just defeated West Babylon in the Suffolk A championship, and Downey, then a freshman, could only think of redemption. But then the world changed. Her season, like many others’, was put in jeopardy, and Downey had to grapple with the possibility that that loss would linger as her last memory playing high school basketball.
And that’s why Sunday’s 46-24 victory over Half Hollow Hills East in the Suffolk Conference II girls basketball final was so special. The old memory could be vanquished, and instead, she could replace it with this: Lifting the championship plaque as her teammates cheered around her after scoring a game-high 20 points to complete a 9-0 season.
"No one wants to feel like that and we never wanted to feel that way again," Downey said. "And winning means you don’t have to feel it . . . We’ve been working so hard and we deserved it, honestly."
The hard work was readily apparent, as the Eagles never trailed, kicking off the game on a 6-0 run and not looking back. Their run-and-gun offense, coupled with crippling defensive pressure, meant Hills East (7-2) played on their heels for the majority of the game.
The Thunderbirds shot 17% from the floor and had trouble penetrating the paint as the West Babylon defense concentrated their attention on Hills East star and Bucknell commit Remi Sisselman. The 6-0 Sisselman led her team with 10 points, while West Babylon’s Brianna Winkler helped lead the defense, and added 15 points of her own.
"We felt like our team defense was going to be able to handle their really good player," coach Ron Langella said. "And it did. We wear people down. They’re special athletes, they play very hard and they love to play hard."
West Babylon led 19-9 at halftime and outscored Hills East 14-5 in the third quarter. West Babylon never let up, even when it appeared the victory was sure in hand.
"I’m so glad we got a season to redeem ourselves because I didn’t think we were going to get one," Winkler said. "We got into shape really fast this season and I feel like our chemistry was so good, especially because all five starters came back. We work good together."
Three of those starters, including Downey and Winkler, will return next season, and Langella is looking forward to seeing what else they can accomplish. They may have reached the precipice of this season, but next year could very well bring a full schedule, a shot at the Suffolk A title, and a state tournament.
"It’s been tough," Langella said. "There’s been a lot of games in a short period of time with practices. It was tough but well worth it. This was the goal since the second they lost to Westhampton last year by two points and they achieved it today. I couldn’t be more proud of them."