March 12 was the last home game of the Shelter Island School girls junior high basketball season. The team sported tie-dye socks they made in a fun team bonding activity. Parents and fans were there to cheer on the feisty home team.
They were facing East Moriches, a large and athletic team. When they first played each another on February 28, the aggressive Eagles full court press confounded the Islanders. As they took the court that February afternoon, it was immediately apparent that East Moriches was very good. Aggressive on offense and defense, with well-coordinated movement on the court, the team was also very vocal.
However, in less than two weeks, the home team has become more confident and savvy and faced the rematch with specific goals in mind. With Angelina Corbett-Rice out sick, Coach Laura Mayo used the chance to give others more playing time, as well as a step up in leadership roles.
Kathy Ramos started the scoring for the Islanders off a rebound from a Cassie Espinoza Heimann shot. Rebounds were big this game with 10 out of 11 of the Island players grabbing the wayward balls.
Andrea Napoles got five rebounds and her aggressive jump balls kept the Eagles on their toes. Valeria Reyes’ quick hands stole the ball from the Eagles and Madi Teodoru went straight into the crowd to wrestle a jump ball.
The Blue and Gray set up one of their most successful plays, with a new twist. “Chief Mary” was called, and as the play ran its course, Mary Gennari got free to take a shot.
Dayla Reyes scored 3 successive points at the start of the second quarter to pull the home team to within 2 at 8-6, a huge victory against the sharp shooting Eagles. Allie Brush showed her strength, ripping the ball away from a larger East Moriches player.
Franny Regan got free for a shot as she was featured in a “Chief Franny” play. Madi Springer grabbed a rebound. Alex Burns grabbed a defensive rebound and with great presence of mind in close quarters, passed it to a guard and ran down the court to get in place for the offensive play.
In the third quarter Napoles showed her quick feet and determination, stopping the fast break. Heimann grabbed the ball and showing her increasing ball-handling skills, dribbled down the court.
In the fourth quarter, more players got the chance to set up and attempt to score as the Islanders continued to work on plays and teamwork.
At the four-minute mark in the last quarter, the 8th graders were honored for their leadership skills as Coach Mayo put all five on the court together. Dayla and Valeria Reyes, Brush, Regan and Ramos were encouraged to “slow down and run something,” highlighting Mayo’s philosophy of learning, not just winning.
In the end, the Eagles had a 37-12 victory. As a coach and fan, I was so impressed with the calmness and lack of frustration, even against a very tough team. East Moriches had won but the Islanders had scored more and East Moriches had scored less than their first meeting — another goal met for the Blue and Gray.
It carried over for a road victory over Smithtown Christian on March 16, with the Islanders outscoring the home team 16-2 in the final period. The Islanders had a cold start due to a two-hour bus ride, but warmed up by the second half. Cassie Espinoza Heimann showed some new skills as a ball handler, taking the ball up the court on two fast breaks with a beautiful pass to her teammate for a score in the second half.
In the girls final game on March 19 against Springs, Regan showed off her defensive skills against a much taller Springs player, holding her to only a few points. Heimann took over as point guard when Valeria Reyes found herself in foul trouble and stepped up to help the team in a last second decision by the coach.
We tried our “Chief” play to get everyone to score to finish out the season. Even though it didn’t result in each player scoring, Coach Mayo was impressed by how unselfish everyone was to try to get their teammates to score. The coach was also extremely impressed by the half court buzzer beater Dayla Reyes hit to send us into the second half.
The Blue and Gray stormed the court to congratulate her. The team started the final period and finished with the 8th graders since it was the last time they would all be playing together. They hugged Coach Mayo and each other as the game ended and huddled and yelled “together” one last time for the season.