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Junior high basketball girls battle Montauk, make the Island proud

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“I’m so proud of them!”

Those were the first words Coach Laura Mayo spoke following the Shelter Island School junior high girls basketball game against Montauk on March 7.

The Islanders had met the athletic Mustangs in their second game of the season on the Mustangs’ home court. Shelter Island had worked hard, met its personal goals, but lost 42-17. When setting the goals for the rematch on the Island, the players simply wanted to score 10 points in the first half, along with limiting the Mustangs offense. As they soon discovered, they were underestimating themselves.

The game began as the rain was beginning to change to snow outside. Shelter Island was the first to score, with Dayla Reyes connecting on a foul shot with less than 10 seconds gone. Team work is getting stronger overall and Mary Gennari is noticeably more confident on the court. She wrestled for the ball underneath and put it up for 2. Two minutes later, Franny Regan notched an assist as Gennari connected again to put the Islanders up 6-0.

Alex Burns was in the thick of things, setting picks and switching on defense as the team continues to increase their teamwork knowledge. Angelina Corbett-Rice was tough on defense, her blue-haired bun marking her aggressive jump ball tussles. Madison Springer grabbed two rebounds, helping to limit the Mustang’s second chances at shooting.

Montauk got on the board in the last minute of the quarter. The visitors’ coaches were obviously pushing to score, calling a timeout with 1.9 seconds on the clock to set up a play in an under-the-basket inbound. The end of the first quarter saw the Islanders with a 6-2 lead.

During the second quarter the Mustangs came out with an agenda, but the home team matched their intensity, with Cassie Espinoza Heimann knocking down a basket for an 8-2 lead. Montauk began to press, playing close defense on the entire court. Island players had to battle through the defense at every moment. They did a nice job of defending the ball, although Montauk did manage to get a few steals.

Combining junior high sports — when athletes are just mastering body control while learning the game — with tough defense can be tricky, and fouls started to add up. Andrea Napoles matched the visitors’ defensive intensity, her tough work causing the Montauk coaches to call a timeout.

Madi Teodoru’s sprint down the court deterred a Montauk basket, while Allie Brush quick read of the ball and a great hustle prevented an inbounds pass from reaching its intended target.

At the half, Montauk had gained some ground, but the Islanders were still in the lead 10-9. Pride in their accomplishment in playing so well against such a strong team was palpable.

The strategy of a junior high team is to divide the team into two equal squads, with the “A” and “B” squads alternating quarters and giving players equal playing time. However, if a team has 10 or fewer members, the A/B squad rule doesn’t apply, but no player can play in more than three quarters.

The Montauk coaches saw the improvement in the Shelter Island team and allowed their most talented players to stay on the court. Coach Mayo opted to stay with the more equitable playing time philosophy, replacing players only when they were injured or fouled out.

At the start of the third quarter, Corbett-Rice made a crisp pass to Regan, who dropped it in for 2. Dayla Reyes fought through traffic, made a great spin move, and added another bucket, putting the home team up 14-10.

But Montauk had three talented players on the floor, and they put together an 11-0 run.

In the fourth quarter, play was more equally matched. Shelter Island dug in, and began to recognize patterns of play on the court, knowing which player would move to the right and which preferred to come up the middle.

They did not back down for a minute, with Kathy Ramos’s trademark hustling keeping her fierce on defense. Valeria Reyes scored the first 3 points in the quarter, connecting on a free throw and a nice hook shot.

Unfortunately, with 2:30 left, she got her fifth foul, and had to leave the game, a sign of the tough defense both teams had been playing. Dayla Reyes and Allie Brush scored back to back baskets, causing the vocal Montauk parents to continue their loud support of their team.

In the end, the final score was 31-21, with the Mustangs taking the game.

But undoubtedly the Island players also came away with a win — a huge boost in confidence in their skills and one another. With their new blue camo warm-up shirts a visible sign of their team spirit, the team huddled after the game, disbanding with their trademark “Together!” cheer.

With their season quickly drawing to a close, the team now has limited time to make their coach proud again, but she’s sure they will make the most of every minute.

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