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Girls basketball team closes season fighting for every point

During the first week of February, the Shelter Island girls basketball team finished out their season with three games in four days.

Despite a bit of a let-down in a Center Moriches match, the team played very well, showing some of their best basketball all season.

After a loss to Mattituck in early January, the Tuckers were surprised during a February 4 rematch on Shelter Island by the definitive improvement of the Islanders.

Twin power was in full force as the Reyes sisters combined for 25 of the 31 points. Valeria scored a double-double, putting up a team high 16 points and hauling down 10 rebounds. Dayla wowed the crowd as a 3-point shot at the buzzer dropped for points at the end of the third quarter.

A focused Audrey Wood also put in a crowd-pleasing 2-for-2 effort from the foul line in the final minute. With the luxury of having more than twice as many players as the Islanders, the visitors ran a full-time, full-court press.

Undaunted, and playing with their trademark never-say-die intensity, the home team held Tuckers to a 4-point final quarter, a mere third of the totals in each of the previous quarters. The Tuckers got the 43-31 win, but the Islanders won their respect.

The last time Shelter Island played Southampton, it was obvious the teams were closely matched. Starting point guard Isabelle Topliff was on vacation, and the team finished with only four athletes on the court after two players fouled out, ending with an oh-so-close loss of 25-23 on January 18.

For their final game on February 7, the Islanders traveled to the Mariners. Fiery Topliff, who has stepped up as a team leader this season, paired up with Lyng Coyne to provide smothering defense. Their teammates also added to the intensity, as relentless pressure led to many Island steals. Grace Olinkiewicz led the team with five take-aways. Bella Springer was strong on the boards, with five rebounds.

The game started fairly evenly, with a 7-4 score at the end of the first quarter. However, in the second quarter, Southampton scored 12 points to the Island’s 6. Down by 9 points at the half, the team took Coach Laura Mayo’s words to heart: “We are beating ourselves. We need to spread the floor and run our plays.”

The much-improved communication in the third quarter led to some great efforts. Both Olinkiewicz and Wood grabbed a rebound and went back up strong to get a basket. The Islanders outscored the Mariners 9-7 in the third frame, gaining momentum for the final quarter of the season.

Just like they’ve shown all year, the Islanders played hard for the full 32 minutes. A V. Reyes block early on earned an appreciative “Oooooh!” from the fans. Great defense frustrated the Mariners, as they couldn’t get the ball inbounded, and also had a shot clock violation. Nonetheless, Southampton held a 28-21 lead with 50 seconds left.

With 43 seconds left, D. Reyes drained a shot to creep up to 23-28. Olinkiewicz was fouled, and added a point. With 17 seconds left, V. Reyes was fouled on a 3-point attempt. Under great pressure, but focusing on one shot at a time, she scored the 25th, 26th and 27th point.

Hustling like crazy, Topliff put up a final hopeful shot at the buzzer. Unfortunately there was no storybook ending. Southampton squeaked out a 28-27 win, which still didn’t diminish the great comeback effort.

However, as always, the score never tells the full story. It was definitely a successful season. Despite the complication of switching coaches mid-season, the team notched four wins.

Each player noted that they were really proud of how the team has improved. “We really improved over the first half of the season. Now we are running plays and breaking presses,” Coyne said.

Equally important was the tenacity of the team. “They never gave up, no matter what the score was. Whether we were winning or down by 30, they just kept playing hard,” Coach Mayo said.

The team has established a new tradition of gathering for a bagel breakfast each game day. It was something Coach Mayo remembered fondly from her own playing days.

This band of sisters, seven athletes strong, enjoy one another’s company.

With no seniors on the team, the group is looking forward to another fun season of growth and improvement in 2020.