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Regional Champion

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The Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team following its Class C state semifinal win over South Seneca. Photo by Danielle Turner

Despite coming up just short of their ultimate goal, the 2016-17 Port Jefferson girls’ basketball season won’t soon be forgotten.

It wasn’t securing the final win that mattered. As the dust settled after Watkins Glen scored a buzzer-beating layup to edge out the Royals, 65-63, in the Class C state finals, the legacy the five senior starters will leave behind and their incredible run, will remain on everyone’s mind.

Every win since the Royals’ 46-43 nail-biter over Pierson-Bridgehampton has been historic. With that victory, Port Jefferson brought home the first Suffolk County championship crown in 90 years. The team then outscored East Rockaway, 67-49, for the Long Island title in school history. The Royals have continued to improve on a 6-9 2013-14 record over the last three seasons, but made a giant leap this year. Port Jefferson won a regional title in the school’s first appearance in the state tournament March 9 and followed it up with a state semifinal victory March 18, to reach the finals.

The Royals were coming off a high heading into the state finals matchup March 19 against Watkins Glen. Port Jefferson had crushed South Seneca 71-53, which senior standout Courtney Lewis said was a big boost of confidence for the team.

“We had never played a team outside of Suffolk before this season, and I think winning by such a large margin on Saturday made us realize we could win,” she said. “We belonged upstate.”

After scoring 31 points in the semifinal game, Lewis tallied 11 of the team’s 15 first-quarter points to help the Royals to a 15-10 lead in the finals. By halftime, the advantage diminished just slightly, to 29-24, with the 2,000-point scorer adding five more points.

“I felt great going into the game,” she said. “I really felt like I could attack their man defense and our offensive plays worked well.”

Freshman Sam Ayotte filled in for Lewis in the third when she was in foul trouble, and she and senior Corinne Scannell came up big in Lewis’ absence. Ayotte capped off a 20-4 run with a 3-pointer from the right corner, extending Port Jefferson’s lead to 53-37 entering the fourth. She scored 12 points in the game, and Scannell added 11.

“Corinne Scannell was making her layups and foul shots, and freshman Sam Ayotte stepped up her game and was driving to the basket,” senior Jackie Brown said. “It gave us the energy we needed.”

But that energy came to a sudden halt, as Watkins Glen’s 28-10 fourth quarter was the difference.

“Our defense was most intense in the third quarter, and our foul situation really hurt us in the fourth,” Lewis said.

She returned to action 50 seconds into the fourth quarter with her team leading 56-42. By the 1:24 mark, Watkins Glen had pulled within two. Watkins Glen added a free throw, but senior Jillian Colucci hit one of two free-throw attempts with 33.1 seconds left to push the lead back to two points, 63-61. With 13.7 seconds on the clock, the game was tied 63-63. Port Jefferson had the ball but couldn’t take the lead. Watkins Glen gained control and Hannah Morse hit a layup at the buzzer, ending the Royals’ 20-5 season just short of a state championship.

“I feel great knowing that even though we didn’t win, we still will go down in history at our high school,” said Lewis, who knocked down a game-high 23 points. “Basketball has been such a big part of my life for as long as I can remember, and just playing with these girls and getting this far in the playoffs is the best way I could have imagined ending my high school career.”

Lewis, who first started on the team as a seventh-grader, was part of three losing season before the Royals started experiencing success.

“Playing on the team since seventh grade has been such a positive influence in my life, and a shaping one, too,” she said. “Basketball means so much to me and playing for Port Jeff was nothing short of a perfect experience, especially my senior season.”

Brown reflected on her time with her teammates.

The Royals game plan before the start of the fourth quarter in the state finals matchup against Watkins Glen. Photo by Danielle Turner

Senior Gillian Kenah is a threat on the boards, Brown said, always below the basket to “clean up the trash,” grab rebounds and score putbacks. Brown said Scannell’s bubbly spirit and positive attitude puts a smile on everyone on the team. The All-Tournament basketball selectee and recipient of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Sportsmanship Award has a strong shot from all over the court.

Colucci, an All-Long Island and All-State soccer player who was named Suffolk County Player of the Year is quick on her feet, with a determination to win that, according to Brown, gets the girls fired up.

“She’s a game changer,” Brown said.

Lewis, as one of the only starters who focuses solely on basketball, has a great sense of the game.

“She is truly an amazing basketball player,” Brown said. “From CYO to senior year, she’s a talent. I could always count on her to get things done.”

The many multisport athletes on the team  only enhanced its winning attitude, with Colucci and Scannell bringing the soccer team’s state-championship mentality to the court the last two seasons. Brown, a field hockey standout, further added to the team’s athleticism.

The Royals have not only made an impression on the district, but also left newcomers like athletic director Danielle Turner in awe.

“I have been involved with countless teams in my career as a player, coach and observer; I can’t remember a team that I am more proud of,” she said. “Right before our eyes, these girls have changed basketball in Port Jefferson. Not only from an athletic standpoint, but from a cultural perspective. Their unwavering commitment to each other, their mental toughness and their maturity were evident throughout the season, and especially throughout their playoff run. It’s something that will be talked about for years to come.”

Brown hopes making history will inspire future teams to come.

“I’ve never been part of a championship team, so I’m honored to be a part of it with this group of girls,” she said. “This has been an incredible experience and I’m so proud of what this team has done over the past five months. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m also excited for the younger girls. It gives them motivation to go get it next year.”

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Port Jefferson's Clare O'Connor kicks the ball behind a defender toward the goal in the Royals' 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson's Clare O'Connor kicks the ball behind a defender toward the goal in the Royals' 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Clare O’Connor kicks the ball behind a defender toward the goal in the Royals’ 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

These Royals continue to rule.

The Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team earned the regional crown on Saturday, topping Cold Spring’s Haldane High School, 3-0, to lengthen their undefeated streak and send them to the state stage.

Port Jefferson celebrates Jillian Colucco's goal in the Royals' 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson celebrates Jillian Colucco’s goal in the Royals’ 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan

That pivotal match came after a perfect season for the Royals in League VII, their second in a row. With no Class C Suffolk County challengers, the girls were named county champs and were sent to the regional finals, where they played the defending state champ.

“These girls play hard right to the end,” Port Jefferson head coach Allyson Wolff said about the Haldane match. “To come out here tonight and beat the last Class C state champion is huge for us and gives us that confidence to go upstate. I think we can do it this year.”

The regional victory is the Royals’ second consecutive title, and sends them to the state playoffs, where they fell last year.

Junior forward Jillian Colucci got the ball rolling for the Royals with 12:45 remaining in the first half. The co-captain received a pass up the middle from senior midfielder and co-captain Olivia Love, and chipped the ball to the left from 10 yards out. It just passed the Haldane goalkeeper’s outstretched arms, bouncing into the left corner for the 1-0 lead.

“My teammate Olivia Love — we have a chemistry that I can’t really describe, but I just knew she was going to play the ball … and as the ball bounced I told myself just to get a touch on it, since I saw the goalie coming out of the box,” Colucci said. “I think our possession and our communication was really good today, and we’re going upstate because of it.”

Port Jefferson's Jillian Colucci races downfield with a defender on her hip in the Royals' 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Jillian Colucci races downfield with a defender on her hip in the Royals’ 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Opening the second half, sophomore goalkeeper Brianna Scarda made a save to maintain her team’s lead, and junior midfielder Brittany Fazin repaid her with another goal. After leading a pack of defenders and squeezing between two to get ahead at the front of the net, she sent her shot into the left corner past a diving Haldane goalkeeper for the 2-0 advantage.

“I was really scared for that moment because I had a similar opportunity earlier and missed it, but I knew going to it that I could do it,” Fazin said. “So I threw myself on the ball and got the goal.”

With 19:32 on the clock, Scarda made another one of her eight saves on the evening to preserve the clean sheet. Several minutes later, Fazin helped set up the next goal when she crossed a pass from the 20-yard line over to the right sideline 10 yards out from the net to Grace Swords, a sophomore forward, who crossed her shot high above the goalkeeper’s head and into the far left corner for the final score of the game.

Despite allowing three goals, Haldane’s goalkeeper, Sara Labriola, put in a lot of work — she made 19 stops on the evening.

Port Jefferson's Brittany Fazin maintains possession in the Royals' 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Brittany Fazin maintains possession in the Royals’ 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Leading up to this week we all focused so hard and we practiced as hard as we’ve ever practiced in our lives, and we had the mindset that we could to this,” Fazin said. “I think our speed and our vision helped us a lot. I think we were very good out of the air, too. I’m new to the school and to the team and this feels great. I love these girls.”

Colucci was also proud of her team’s outcome.

“There was so much anticipation going into this game because we had three weeks from our last league game until here, so it feels amazing to have our hard work pay off,” she said. “I think our possession and our communication was really good today.”

Although the game was slow to start, the Royals thrive on forward motion.

“Once that one goal kicked in, it got their momentum going, their fire burning and their confidence boosted,” Wolff said. “I said from the very beginning that they could do it and they prove it when they step on the field. They’re a great group of girls and it’s just a pleasure and an honor coaching this group. They have that drive and desire to win and hopefully we can do it upstate.”

Port Jefferson will take on Caledonia-Mumford on Saturday in the state semifinals at Cortland High School Field 1 at 5 p.m. If the Royals win, they will move on to play in the finals on Sunday, at 9:30 a.m. at SUNY Cortland’s Red Field.

Port Jefferson celebrates after its 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson celebrates after its 3-0 win over Haldane for the Southeast Regional title on Nov. 7. Photo by Desirée Keegan