By Jim Ferchland
Commack’s girls basketball team proved once again why it’s the No. 1 seed and team to beat by securing the program’s third Suffolk County championship title in four years.
The Cougars controlled the tempo with their ability to spread the floor and shoot from the perimeter, making nine 3-pointers in a 52-25 topple over No. 2 Half Hollow Hills East Feb. 27 at Farmingdale State College.
Senior captain and Commack sharpshooter Kim Shalhoub drained a team-high four threes to lead the Cougars with 14 points. She had 13 points in a Feb. 24 semifinal win over Ward Melville. She felt more comfortable taking shots from beyond the arc this time around.
“It was really good to finally hit some shots after last game,” Shalhoub said. “Nothing was really going in for me on Saturday.”
She said she was able to get open shot opportunities coming off screens, which is a vital part of the Cougars’ offense.
“A lot of our plays have to do with setting screens for each other, cutting, and a lot of fast movement,” Shalhoub said. “I think that’s really important when it comes to getting open for shots.”
Junior guard Katie Kelly contributed 13 points and knocked down two 3-pointers for Commack. It’s her third straight time making it to the county finals game. In the second half, Commack ran away with the game by outscoring the Thunderbirds 24-9 while playing smothering defense. Going into the game, Kelly was not anticipating a one-sided affair.
“I expected them to come out a lot harder,” Kelly said. “I think that we just played our game. We stayed together, ultimately. We said that no matter what happens in this game, we have to stay together.”
Commack senior captain Casey Hearns orchestrated the offense. She called plays and made extra passes until her Cougars were open for shots. She added eight points, also making two 3-pointers. Her first shot from outside was a running bank shot off the glass at the end of the first quarter, which gave Commack a comfortable 21-8 advantage. To finalize a 13-0 run in the third quarter in the final minute, she tossed a shot that put Commack up by 23 points, 44-21.
“We usually depend on Katie [Kelly], but she was being covered,” Hearns said. “When she’s being covered or when the offense is a little slow, I’m obviously going to step in and help her. I think that’s what we do really well on offense. I’m always happy to assist my teammates by sharing the ball.”
Hearns said she was astonished to know her team allowed just nine points in the second half.
“I had no idea. That’s awesome,” Hearns said. “We played defense really well in the second half. I’m so proud with how we played.”
Denis Conroy, Commack’s 12-year head coach, missed a large portion of the season due to medical reasons. Assistant coach Russ Tietjen, Harborfields’ former head coach, has led the team most of the year, but Conroy said he could not be happier to add another county title notch to his belt.
“It’s the pride of my life to be their coach,” Conroy said. “They are just tremendous kids. You can’t say enough about what they did. It means a lot to play as well as we did against a team that good. We have managed to develop a strong continuity in our program and I’m very proud of that.”
The Cougars await the winner of the Nassau Class AA final between Massapequa and Baldwin. Commack will play the winner in the Long Island championship/ Southeast Regional semifinal March 8. The game is currently slated to begin at 7:30 p.m. at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood.