By Jim Ferchland
League II play did not phase Rich Castellano and his Northport Tigers this season.
The girls basketball team took down Walt Whitman on the road Feb. 2 in a 50-42 victory to remain undefeated at 11-0 and claim the league crown. Junior guard Hannah Stockman was the catalyst with 16 points.
With the Tigers lead 23-19 at the halftime break, the four-year varsity player’s mind was set on taking the title.
“From the beginning of the season our goal was to be league champions,” Stockman said. “Tonight, we finally achieved that.”
Castellano said he was expecting a close game against Walt Whitman. The last time the Tigers faced off against the Wildcats Jan. 9, Northport won a tight 48-44 decision.
“I’ve been playing against coach Dan Trebour for many years and our games are always close,” Castellano said. “They play good defense, we play good defense. Every shot is contested. It’s always close at best.”
Stockman and sophomore guard Danielle Pavinelli notched double-digit point totals for Northport. Pavinelli finished with 10 points, six of them coming the third quarter.
The Tigers faced an unfortunate scene late in the first quarter when one of their sharpshooters hit the floor hard. Senior guard and four-year varsity player Shelby Maldavir tripped and landed hard on her knee. She didn’t return to the court, finishing with one point.
“I felt a little pop right on my knee cap,” Maldavir said. “The doctors looked at it and said it’s not an ACL injury. The best it could be is just a bruise.”
Castellano said losing Maldavir, one of his biggest point scorers, was a tough break.
“That hurt us,” Castellano said. “She’s a leader. She’s an outside threat — she hits threes. But the testament of the team is that you have players to replace. That’s why you have 15 girls on the team.”
Northport sophomore guard Kelly McLaughlin filled in for Maldavir. She had five points with two three throws made late in the fourth quarter.
Castellano rotated players for different assignments to set them up for success. After Maldavir’s injury, Castellano said he wanted to “go big” and bring in 5-foot, 10-inch sophomore Leah Morawski. When she took to the court, McLaughlin came in to provide inside help for sophomore forward Kerry Dennin, who caught 16 rebounds on the night.
“You put all of those little pieces together and it’s an 8-point win,” Castellano said. “We were just a little better tonight.”
Walt Whitman’s Meghan Soulias caught fire in the second half scoring 19 of her game-high 23 points in the second half. Twelve of them came in third quarter — with two threes — where the Wildcats cut deficit to five. Four other players scored for Walt Whitman, but she was the only player in double figures.
“She’s a great player,” Castellano said of Soulias. “We knew that. We know she’s going to get her points.”
Northport has won over 20 league titles and 10 county championships under Castellano, who has been at the helm for 39 years. Northport is scheduled to face Central Islip Feb. 9 in the final game of the regular season. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.