By Joe Galotti
On Tuesday night, the Centereach girls’ basketball team gave its five seniors the spotlight, honoring the players in a pre-game ceremony before the club’s regular season finale. But, late in the game’s fourth quarter, it was a senior from visiting Smithtown West that stole the show.
Senior forward Mackenzie Heldberg converted a key floating jump shot with under a minute to go, to help her team secure a 47-44 victory over the Cougars.
“You can count on Mackenzie whenever the game is on the line,” Smithtown West head coach Katie Combs said. “She put that little floater in that sealed the game for us, and it’s a testament to her as a player.”
Also helping the Bulls steal a win on Centereach’s senior night were juniors Gabby Horman and Sarah Harrington. The duo combined for 24 points and 20 rebounds in the contest.
Junior Cassidy Treanor and senior Lauren Meigel both reached double-digit points for the Cougars in the game. But, according to Centereach head coach James Steigele Jr., his team did not play collectively, and shoot well enough from the field to come away victorious.
“Our defense was good, and we rebounded well,” he said. “But they were hitting their shots, and we unfortunately weren’t tonight. We had good looks, too.”
Even with their inconsistent shooting, the Cougars still held a 32-29 lead with 4:30 remaining in the third quarter. But Smithtown West finished out the stanza strong, ending the quarter on a 10-0 run. Harrington helped spark her team, forcing multiple turnovers and frequently making her way to the basket on offense.
The Bulls took a seven-point lead into the final quarter, and seemed poised to run away with the contest. Centereach would have none of that, as the team quickly worked its way back into striking distance. With 1:28 left in regulation, Meigel hit a layup that trimmed Smithtown West’s lead to just one point.
At this point, all of the momentum seemed to be on the Cougars’ side, but the Bulls managed to stay composed.
“We faced a lot of adversity tonight in the second half, but we just kept pressing harder,” Harrington said. “We knew we had to play defense to win the game.”
Centereach was held off the scoreboard in the game’s final minute, and Heldberg’s late basket helped stabilize things for Smithtown West. On the Cougars’ final possession, the team’s comeback hopes were officially ended by a Horman blocked shot.
“This game wasn’t the cleanest you could’ve watched, but the girls that I coach have a tremendous amount of resolve,” Combs said. “I really appreciate the efforts they gave tonight.”
Despite the loss, Centereach still put together a memorable senior night. Before tip-off, Steigele Jr. took to the microphone and shared kind words about seniors Meigel, Erica Medina, Alyssa Sokolowski, Nicole Fellone and Katrina Gangji.
“That moment meant a lot,” Gangji said. “I’ve played on this team for three years and my teammates mean so much to me. It’s meant a lot being a Centereach Cougar, and the fact that it’s almost over is really upsetting.”
Fellone, who tore her ACL in a recent game against North Babylon, was given a chance to start, at the request of the team’s players and their parents. In a great showcase of sportsmanship, the Bulls allowed Fellone to record a layup, before she exited her final regular season contest to cheers from the crowd.
Both teams will quickly move on from the emotions of Tuesday’s matchup, as postseason play gets underway. Harrington said after Smithtown West’s victory, that the club is feeling good about itself entering playoff action.
Steigele Jr. also seems to have plenty of faith in his squad.
“We’re definitely confident going into the playoffs,” he said. “Our team was able to get to this point for a reason.”