By Bill Landon
Victoria Johnson vindicated her team.
For those that thought the Mount Sinai girls’ basketball team may not be able to top visiting Shoreham-Wading River heading into overtime, the senior showed why Mount Sinai is becoming a powerhouse across all sports, helping win the battle of undefeated teams. The Mustangs outscored the Wildcats 61-55 Jan. 17, with Johnson scoring a game-high 21 points.
Mount Sinai’s defense also stole the show. The Mustangs’ press overwhelmed the Wildcats, helping the team break out to an early 11-2 lead, and stretching the advantage to 25-16 by the halftime break. The goal, according to Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo, was to defend Shoreham-Wading River senior Mackenzie Zajac.
“Our game plan was to try to hold Zajac to 10 points or less, which is a tall order,” he said. “Brooke [Cergol] played lights out tonight — she was amazing on defense from start to finish. She held Zajac to just seven points.”
On the opposite end of the court, Shoreham-Wading River head coach Adam Lievre wasn’t pleased with how his team defended its end of the court.
“Our press in the first half didn’t work out very well, and we haven’t played a competitive game in a few weeks,” he said. “The level of competition took a major step up tonight, and we didn’t come out at tipoff ready to handle it, which put us in a hole.”
The Wildcats’ second half would be unlike the first though, learning from their mistakes. Senior Sam Higgins shifted the momentum of the game with a 3-pointer, followed several unanswered points, which was capped by a Maria Smith basket that made it a one-point game.
After a Shoreham-Wading River field goal, Johnson answered with a long distance three, but the Wildcats countered with a pair of Mikayla Dwyer free throws and a Higgins field goal to make it a two-point game.
Despite being held to seven points, Zajac made her points count, and on a field goal gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game, 41-10. But the Wildcats’ lead was short lived. Mount Sinai sophomore Holly McNair came off the bench and found the rim to retake the lead with 4:32 left in the final quarter.
“Gabby [Sartori] stepped up big to hit an amazing shot when we needed it most to put us up by two,” Pappalardo said. “[Veronica] Venezia played awesome in the post, scoring and rebounding along with Holly McNair who really helped us off the bench.”
Swapping points on both sides of the court with time running out, Dwyer stole the ball and broke to the basket to tie the game at 51-51 with 21 seconds left in regulation.
“They came out very strong in that second half — they were aggressive, they were trapping and we didn’t expect them to do that,” Venezia said of Shoreham-Wading River. “Our defense was strong today and we’re very excited. This is our best year so far.”
Each team traded points to retie the game at 55-55 with 1:48 left in the first four-minute overtime session, but the Mustangs inched away. Sartori’s shot found its mark, followed by a Johnson field goal and pair of free throws by junior Olivia Williams to put the game away.
“Olivia was all over the place,” Pappalardo said, “rebounding and diving for loose balls showing outstanding hustle.”
Venezia followed Johnson in scoring with 14 points and Sartori tacked on 12. Dwyer lead the Wildcats with 12 points and Higgins banked 11.
With the win, the Mustangs are 11-0 overall and atop the League VI leaderboard at 7-0.
Sartori said both the undefeated matchup and her team’s success so far this season puts the Mustangs in uncharted territory.
“It was our first overtime — we had to talk to each other, and we were ready for this one,” she said. “We knew how much we wanted this, and getting this win, we’re very optimistic for the rest of the season.”