By Bill Landon
Despite the Smithtown West girls’ basketball team clawing back and taking its first lead of the game with just over five minutes left in regulation, Huntington closed the gap and edged ahead by a point, holding onto the lead in the final minute for a 44-43 League III victory Monday night.
The Bulls opened the third quarter with six unanswered points and trimmed their deficit to four to open the final quarter trailing 31-27.
Smithtown West head coach Katie Combs said her team missed many opportunities early in the game.
“Predominantly layups and our free throws killed us today,’ she said. “Had we not done that, we should’ve won that game by 10. We’re a much better team than that, and in the second half, we had to step up and show it.”
With 5:45 remaining in the game, Smithtown West drew within one point when Rebecca Meyers went to the line shooting for two points. The senior forward missed the front end, but nailed the back to tie the game at 33-33. On their next offensive possession, the Bulls took their first lead of the game when junior forward Gabby Horman, on a rebound, banked two points to put her team out in front, 35-33.
“We started getting our steals with our press, which carried over on offense,” said Horman, who led her team in scoring with 12 points. “Coach told us at the halftime that we need to dominate in the second half and get the ball down low.”
Huntington edged ahead by a field goal and a free-throw appearance, but Horman retied the game when she went to the line shooting two and split the opportunity.
Both teams were plagued by penalties in the final two minutes of the game, and both teams traded points at the foul line. Leading by one, the Bulls found the rim to edge ahead 43-40 with 1:33 left in regulation.
“Our girls just worked really hard in that second half,” said Smithtown West freshman Jillian Unkenholz, who scored 10 points on the evening.
Huntington went to the free-throw line next, but came away empty as the score stalled with 55 seconds left on the clock.
Huntington sophomore Alex Heuwetter let a three-point attempt fly with 35 seconds left, and her shot hit its mark to tie the game again, this time, at 43-43.
“We sat back on them a little bit — we got comfortable with where we were at and they took advantage of that,” Huntington senior Taylor Moreno said. “The second wave of our bench came in and that completely changed the whole demeanor of the game, which gave us confidence to make that last push and we were able to come out with the win.”
With less than six seconds remaining in regulation, Huntington senior guard Katie Reilly drove the lane and was fouled, sending her to the charity stripe. She scored on the first, but missed the second opportunity to put her team out front 44-43. Reilly and Heuwetter both topped the Huntington scoreboard with 14 points apiece.
Despite her strong performance in the final quarter, Reilly said the coach wasn’t pleased at the halftime break.
“Well, the subs went in to start the second half — all five of us came out because we were slacking a little bit,” Reilly said. “So coach sent in five new people and they carried us, so it was a real team effort.”
With 4.2 seconds left on the scoreboard, Smithtown West had one final possession, inbounded the ball and passed to the baseline only to have it picked off by the Blue Devils as the buzzer sounded.
“We let them hang around and I think that was our biggest problem — we were content where we were instead of separating ourselves,” Huntington head coach Michael Kaplan said. “The girls who came off the bench really stepped up and contributed to the win, because whoever’s playing the hardest is going to play, and our subs came in and gave us a spark and energy that rejuvenated the rest of the team.”