There are certain expectations when a junior high basketball team plays its first game. Especially when half the team lacks experience and there are only six athletes on the entire squad. Let’s just say that the Shelter Island girls junior high basketball team certainly exceeded expectations on February 5, beating the visiting Greenport Gold team 31-30 in overtime. Yes, overtime.
Coach Laura Mayo loves working with the young players, teaching them skills, game strategy, and watching the explosive learning that takes place. “We’ve only had twelve practices, and three of the girls are really new to the game,” the coach said after the game. “They’ve already learned seven plays, and we were able to run five of them today. I’m so proud of them.”
At the start of the first quarter both teams looked tentative. Sophie Clark, one of the team’s three eighth graders, scored the first points of the game. Both coaches gave feedback from the sideline. “That’s O.K.,” and “Call out the number of the girl you’re guarding,” were frequently heard as the players warmed to the game. Dariana Duran Alvarado was the scorekeeper for the team, keeping track of the action on the court.
Katie Gulluscio hustled down the court, beating the Greenport player to the basket and preventing a score. Seventh grader Jennifer Fabian Santos showed her enthusiasm on both offense and defense. She hustled for the ball, putting up a shot from the crowd under the basket. Shortly after that, she blocked a ball Greenport was trying to inbound.
Greenport was up 10-6 at the end of the first quarter, but that lead didn’t last long. The Island has only six players, so it’s difficult to set up true game-like scenarios in practice. As they became more comfortable with playing with defenders, their confidence increased, and the home team put up 12 points to the visitors’ 2 in the second quarter. Four different athletes scored points. Fabian Santos, Gulluscio and Clark added 2 points each. Harper Congdon got 6 of her 12 in this quarter, the final basket coming just at the buzzer. The ball rolled around and around the rim, finally dropping in to give the Islanders an 18-12 lead.
The third quarter featured lots of rebounding. Each Island player finished the game with at least two rebounds, with Clark pulling down a team-high 20. Janet Carbajal was trusted to inbound the ball on many occasions, and it was great to see her confidence increase throughout the game. Watching carefully as her teammates ran screens and cut to get into position, she remained calm in the face of Greenport’s stiff defense. Danae Carter hustled on the court, playing defense and working to improve her ball handling skills. She went down hard in the middle of the third quarter, banging her knee, but continued her encouraging comments to her teammates from the bench. The Islanders had a 22-19 lead at the end of the 3rd.
At the start of the 4th the Greenport coach strategically stacked her players, putting the strongest players on the court. Coach Mayo continued to encourage her squad, while Clark and Gulluscio stepped up their leadership on the court. Greenport went on a 6-0 scoring run in the 4th quarter, grabbing a 27-25 lead with under 2 minutes left. With Coach Mayo’s “I know you can do this” encouragement ringing in her ears, Fabian Santos scored with 30 seconds left to tie it, 27-27, and send the game into overtime.
Fans and families in the stands were thrilled as the 4-minute OT ticked down. Greenport went up by 1, but the Islanders answered back. Carbajal chased down a rolling ball to prevent it from going out of bounds, maintaining possession. An older brother in the crowd grinned widely, cheering on his sister, “This is awesome!”
Gulluscio fouled out, and Carter gamely came off the bench and played through some pain to help the team. Congdon scored on a nice inbound play to put the home team up for good, fending off a last-minute basket by Greenport to win the nail-biter 31-30.
Following the game, an ecstatic Coach Mayo praised the team’s effort, noting that the team hit every goal that they had set for themselves. As an observing coach, I was particularly proud of the willingness of each player to put themselves into new and intimidating situations and learn from the experience.
The girls junior high basketball team’s next home games are February 10 against Greenport Purple and February 25 vs. Mattituck Blue, both at 4 p.m. Come support these young athletes.