No Suffolk County team averaged more than Kings Park’s 69.5 points per game this season.
That offensive success paid off in dividends as the No. 3-seeded Kingsmen finished the regular season 16-2 overall and took a 12-game winning streak into the postseason, where the undefeated League IV champions took down No. 14 Hauppauge and No. 6 Huntington, making their way to the Suffolk County Class AA semifinals at Stony Brook University Sunday afternoon.
Although challenger Commack, the No. 2 seed, was also 18-2 heading into the game, the usual onslaught that had been expected with Kings Park was non-existent on the Seawolves’ home court.
This was because the Cougars valued defense above all else — something that Kings Park head coach Tom Edmundson said was lacking from his team’s game Sunday.
“Our help defense was not what it needed to be and we talked about that all year, really,” he said. “We’ve come a long way from the beginning of the season, and it’s been something we’ve focused on and we’ve focused on, and today we just didn’t put it all together on the defensive side of the ball.”
Commack scored the first six points of the semifinal game before sophomore guard Sam Schultz swished a 3-pointer to cut the lead in half. The Cougars countered with a field goal and two free-throw points to re-extend the lead. Despite a free-throw point by junior guard and forward Taylor Slicklein, Commack grabbed an offensive rebound to pull ahead 12-4, forcing Edmundson to use one of his timeouts to try and regroup.
The pep-talk proved successful, as Schultz scored a layup and a field goal, Slicklein tacked on a 3-pointer and junior guard Selena Ubriaco tallied a trifecta of her own with 3.6 left in the first quarter to help her team pull within five, 19-14, heading into the second stanza.
“I think we definitely didn’t start as strong as we needed to today, and Commack made the most of it — they started as strong as they could and that allowed them to take the lead in the end,” Schultz said. “We fought back, but it wasn’t enough.”
The deficit only grew from there, with Commack taking a 35-23 advantage into the locker room.
“You’ve gotta take your hat off to Commack they played great defense,” Edmundson said. “Jackie DelliSanti dominated. She’s a phenomenal player. We knew we needed to try and slow her down and we were unable to do that, and that was the big difference.”
DelliSanti was the difference-maker, scoring a game-high 22 points.
In the second half, though, Kings Park mounted a strong comeback effort, outscoring its opponent 15-9 in the third quarter, with help from Schultz, Ubriaco, senior guard Kiera Ahern and Taylor Slicklein’s twin sister Tiffany.
Tiffany Slicklein, who averaged 17 points per game, was held to 13, which helped open the lane for Schultz, who finished with a team-high 17 points herself. Still, the sophomore said the team’s junior co-captain is such a dominant player that despite the heavy guarding, Slicklein was able to excel.
“They have to key on her,” Schultz said of Slicklein. “That allowed me to be more open to the point where it’s hard for them to key on two girls, so I think that helped open up some lanes for everybody. But she definitely made really smart choices and passes and never forced any shots, which helped.”
Despite Kings Park’s strong season coming to a close, the head coach said he’s proud of his girls’ accomplishments.
“They battled all year and they came together as a team,” he said. “We have some freshmen and some seniors and the dynamics don’t always work out well, and with this group, it did. They all came together.”
Schultz said she thinks the outcome may have been different had the team learned from its mistakes early on in the game, but is excited about the future of her team, although the loss of senior starter Kiera Ahern will prove difficult.
“If a couple of shots would’ve fell or if we made that extra pass one or two extra times, I think the outcome could’ve been a little different,” Schultz said. “Now that this season is over all you can worry about is next year, so I’m excited. We’ll have probably a little freshman come up and be a starter, and I think only good things for us next year.”