By Bill Landon & Desirée Keegan
Jillian Colucci and Corinne Scannell know what being a part of a Port Jeff powerhouse is like. They were both on the two-time state champion girls’ soccer team. Now, they can say they are a part of another team that made history with total team dominance.
The Royals basketball team earned the school’s first Suffolk County Class C title since 1927 Feb. 18. Despite being the first team to take Port Jefferson all the way this year, the Royals hadn’t had success is the finals in seasons past. The girls went 11-1 in League VIII last season, and 10-0 the year before that, but lost to Pierson-Bridgehampton and Babylon, respectively in the final game.
This year, the girls not only made history; they got redemption with a 46-43 win over Pierson.
Senior Courtney Lewis, who scored a team-high 12 points, was limited well below her 27.3 points-per-game average. She and classmate Jillian Colucci were forced to watch the final minutes of the game from the bench, after fouling out as the 13-point lead they entered the fourth quarter with slowly shrank.
“Honestly, it was very stressful and everyone else on the team stepped up,” Lewis said of watching the end of the fourth quarter transpire. “They just played really well today.”
The Royals led 38-25 heading into the final eight minutes of regulation. That’s when momentum shifted the Whalers’ way. The team slowly chipped away at the deficit, with Nia Dawson, who scored a game-high 17 points, leading the way.
With two of the team’s primary ball handlers sidelined, Port Jefferson head coach Jesse Rosen said his bench players were remarkable.
“They may not have been comfortable in the situation they were put in on the court — especially in a pressure situation — but they stepped up and did a nice job,” he said.
Protecting a six-point lead at that point, Port Jefferson was sent to the free-throw line, but couldn’t cash in. Pierson had the same opportunity on the other end, and used it to lessen the Royals’ advantage to four points. Coming down to the wire, Pierson’s Isabel Peters went to the stripe and sank both of her free throws with 17 seconds left in the game.
Port Jefferson sophomore Jocelyn Lebron added a free-throw to extend Port Jefferson’s advantage to three points. Port Jefferson senior Corinne Scannell had an opportunity to put the championship away when she was fouled with eight seconds left, and she didn’t disappoint.
“No matter how much they were gaining on us, we still had the lead and we had to keep that in perspective,” Scannell said. “We put pressure on ourselves, we played as a team and we pushed ourselves.”
Lebron said despite being one of the younger members of the squad, she too knew what her Royals had to do.
“When they got close, we just had to slow this game down a little bit, but keep our energy up,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier with this experience.”
Rosen said he gave his girls some words of advice during the fourth quarter.
“I said to them that runs are inevitable,” he said. “Things like that are going to happen and the key is to be able to weather the run.”
Colucci credited her teammates for how they handled the game’s final minutes, but not before she tipped her hat to her opponents, especially for being the team to top the Royals last year.
“It’s always a tough game against Pierson — they never give up and they play us really hard — but we just had to keep our composure,” she said. “We all made eye contact, we relaxed and we slowed the game down. We tried not to let the crowd get us frazzled and we kept our heads in the game.”
Behind Lewis were Colucci and Scannell with 11 points each. Colucci swished two 3-pointers and Scannell had a double-double with 12 rebounds. Senior Gillian Kenah finished with five points, Lebron added four and freshman Samantha Ayotte scored once, with a shot from beyond the arc.
Port Jefferson will take on Class B’s winner of the Feb. 21 Mattituck and McGann-Mercy matchup for the small school championship title at Riverhead High School Feb. 24 at 4 p.m.
While the team is to get ready for the next game, Rosen said just wants his team to take in the moment first.
“I told them to just savor the win,” he said. “We’ll talk X’s and O’s another time.”