By Bill Landon
In his book The Precious Present, Spencer Johnson wrote: “I can chose to be happy now, or I can try to be happy when, or if.”
The Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team chose to live in the moment during their March 6 Long Island championship title game, stepping onto a court no Royal had walked on before. Senior Jillian Colucci was no stranger to the limelight, though. The soccer standout, used to throwing the ball inbounds during the fall season, swished a long distance shot that was just three feet inside half court to close out the first half. The buzzer-beater before halftime that capped a 9-0 run sent the crowd into frenzy, and the Royals dancing into the locker room. That happiness carried through the second half, as Port Jefferson outscored East Rockaway 67-49 for the school’s first Class C crown.
“We’re just soaking it in,” senior Corinne Scannell said of the win. “Precious Present … it’s all about living in the moment, so I guess we’ll enjoy the moment and take it from here.”
East Rockaway’s defense focused on shutting down senior Courtney Lewis all across the SUNY Old Westbury court, but it didn’t matter. Lewis fought through double-teams most of the way to score a game-high 30 points. She drove the lane over and over, and even if she didn’t score, she drew fouls to find points from the free-throw line instead. The senior went 9-for-10 from the charity stripe.
“It feels really good knowing that we did it as a team.”
“We knew they were going to key on Courtney, and we needed our other shooters to be willing to step up and take their shots,” Port Jefferson head coach Jessie Rosen said. “They gained confidence throughout the course of the week, and today when the opportunity was there for them. They did what they needed to do.”
Jackie Brown was first to step up, hitting long distance shots seemingly at will. The senior banked four of them in the first half. Then, it was Colucci’s shining moment. With Lewis cornered, sophomore Jocelyn Lebron passed Colucci the ball. As Colucci sprinted just beyond half court, she let the ball go as the buzzer sounded, and hit nothing but net, giving her team a 36-22 advantage heading into the break.
“There was time for one more, and I heaved it up and it just went in,” Colucci said. “I’m just absolutely speechless. To make it this far with these girls is absolutely amazing.”
Defensively, the Royals hands were everywhere. And they made their steals count. Scannell intercepted a pass, and dished it off to Colucci, who went coast to coast for the score that helped the Royals break out to 43-27 lead with 4:41 left in the third.
“It feels really good knowing that we did it as a team,” Scannell said. “The things we worked on in practice were tailored to this game. It’s nice to see it all come together.”
For Brown, who chipped in 14 points, the magnitude of her team’s accomplishment hasn’t set in yet.
“I hoped we would be here at the beginning of the season — it’s awesome that we won it,” she said. “It’s really cool that we’ll have that 2017 LIC banner to hang in the gym.”
Senior Gillian Kenah echoed Brown’s sentiment.
“At the beginning of the season it was definitely a dream — I imagined us at the counties, but I wasn’t sure about this,” she said. “Honestly, it’s a dream come true.”
I know that sounds like a cliché, but when you practice like you play and play like you practice, it’s nothing short of awesome.”
Lewis credited the success to her team’s daily preparation.
“I knew we’d come out with intensity,” she said. “But I didn’t think we’d win by this margin.”
Rosen said he could see the team’s determination early on when he took over mid-season as the team’s head coach.
“This is an exciting group of girls — they work their absolute hardest every day,” he said. “I know that sounds like a cliché, but when you practice like you play and play like you practice, it’s nothing short of awesome.”
When the buzzer sounded, the Royals erupted in celebration as they experienced the taste of a Long Island championship for the first time. Thinking back to the short story they read prior to the game, they realized they attained that precious present.
“It is wise for me to think about the past, and to learn from my past, but it is not wise for me to be in the past for that is how I lose myself,” Johnson wrote. “It is also wise to think about the future and to prepare for my future, but it is not wise for me to be in the future for that too is how I lose myself, and when I lose myself, I lose what is most precious to me.”
Kenah said her team will savor the moment , and get back to work preparing for the next game. The Royals will face the winner of the Section I Haldane vs. Section VIIII Pine Plains in the regional finals March 9 at SUNY Old Westbury at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re going to condition tomorrow,” she said. “We have another game on Thursday, so we’ll enjoy tonight, but we’re right back at it tomorrow.”