By Bill Landon
Gillian Kenah’s focus may have shifted from defense during one game, to offense the next, but the senior showed she performs when the pressure is on.
“We gave Gill the responsibility last game of playing against their biggest threat, and she stepped up,” Port Jefferson head coach Jesse Rosen said. “Today, she didn’t have that same pressure on her, and she played a phenomenal game.”
That’s because instead of guarding, Kenah was under the boards mopping up when her teammates’ shots weren’t falling, scoring 10 of her 12 points in the second half to give her Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team the push it needed to outscore Haldane 43-30 in the Class C state regional final at SUNY Old Wetsbury March 9. The squad becomes the first basketball team in Royals history, boys’ or girls’, to punch a ticket to the Final Four.
“You dream for these things to happen, you don’t expect for these things to happen. We’ve put in so much hard work, we’ve been looking forward to this for years and we’re finally here.”
“It’s so incredible — it’s another dream come true,” said Kenah, who averaged 3.1 points per game heading into the matchup. “You dream for these things to happen, you don’t expect for these things to happen. We’ve put in so much hard work, we’ve been looking forward to this for years and we’re finally here.”
The heavy lifting first fell onto senior Courtney Lewis, who scored all seven of the team’s first-quarter points, although they were down 8-7 after eight minutes. Jillian Colucci, a three-point scoring threat who drew double coverage outside, was able to space the floor and create opportunities for her classmate Lewis.
Lewis still led a more balanced second-quarter attack, and with her second 3-pointer of the game, helped her team retake the lead, 15-14, and the Royals never looked back.
Port Jefferson’s defense was everywhere, using a zone defense that bottled up shooters and got deflections to upset Haldane’s rhythm. On the team’s last possession of the first half, Lewis picked off a pass and went end-to-end for a field goal that put the Royals up 21-16 heading to the locker room.
“We’ve been working on our defense all week leading up to Monday’s game — even yesterday and the day before it’s just defense, defense, defense,” said Colucci, who had six points and five assists. “If you can prevent the other team from scoring, you’re going to win the game.”
Kenah was also a factor on the other end of the court, grabbing 13 rebounds while converting those possession into six of her own points to help turn a five-point halftime lead into a nine-point advantage, 27-19, at the end of three quarters.
“It’s incredible this journey with these girls — it’s an amazing experience I can’t even describe the feeling and the emotions that I feel before every game, during every game and after every game,” Colucci said. “It’s just amazing.”
Lewis went to the line three times in the final stanza, going 4-for-6 from the line overall, and, although she missed a shot from beyond the arc soon after, Kenah was there to finish with another put-back.
“I can’t even tell you how much this means — wanting this win,” Lewis said. “We’ll celebrate this win tonight, but tomorrow we’ll be right back at it and practice 10 times harder.”
Rosen struggled to find the words the describe the season’s success.
“It’s excitement,” he said. “This scene, not only for the team, but the kids who traveled here, their passion to want to be here and support the girls it just goes to show you why Port Jeff is such an awesome place.”