By Bill Landon
Needing a win to earn a share of the League III championship title, the Huntington girls’ basketball team took care of business Tuesday night, defeating Smithtown East on the road, 63-50. It was senior night for the Bulls, who were able to close within 11 points late, before falling to the Blue Devils.
Huntington sophomore Alex Heuwetter had the hot hand early, scoring seven points, while teammate Anna Gulizio, a junior, added six to put their team out front 21-9 after eight minutes of play.
Having trouble scoring from the paint, Smithtown East unleashed its 3-point game, with juniors Tori Redmond, Jordi DeBernardo and Alex Schultz netting treys in the second quarter. But Huntington answered back with four 3-pointers of its own, two of which were by senior guard Katie Reilly, propelling the Blue Devils to a 40-24 advantage to open the second half.
“They came out with a lot of passion, especially on a night like this, so we should’ve taken them more seriously,” Reilly said. “I thought we played pretty good, but I think we could’ve played stronger defensively. All in all, we did all right.”
Battling the boards all night for the Bulls was Nina DeStefano, who rebounded several missed shots for putbacks. DeBernardo nailed her second trifecta of the game as Smithtown East outscored Huntington 13-12 after eight minutes, to trail 52-37 heading into the final quarter.
Huntington senior Brooke Baade sparked the offense with a field goal and her third 3-pointer of the game, and Heuwetter banked a pair of field goals to put a stop to the Bull’s late-game surge.
Schultz swished a pair of 3-pointers late and DeStefano netted two field goals, but it was too little too late for Smithtown East, as Huntington took the win to finish 12-1 in League III, and tie Riverhead for a share of the league title.
“I knew that they were going to be tough,” DeStefano said. “They’re in first place in our league for a reason. It was a struggle under the boards because they have a lot of good rebounders.”
Schultz led her team in scoring with 15 points, while DeStefano followed close behind with 12 and Redmond tacked on 10.
“Nina DeStefano had an outstanding game for us on senior night, Tatiana Jean did a great job rebounding the ball and Ceili Williams, our sophomore point guard, had one of the best games she’s had for us, and sky’s the limit for her,” Smithtown East head coach Tom Vulin said. “So as a team, we played well together. We cut the deficit to 11 so a couple of turnovers here and there could’ve made it closer.”
Atop the leaderboard for Huntington was Heuwetter with 16 points, Reilly netted 14 and Baade banked 11.
“They’re a tough team — they’re in third place in our conference and they have a lot of good shooters,” Heuwetter said. “Our defense could’ve been better. They were popping threes like crazy.”
Clinching a playoff berth the week before, No. 19 Smithtown East opened the postseason with an out-bracket game against No. 14 Hauppauge, but results were not available by press time.
“Because of all the snow, our playoff season starts tomorrow, so we’ll know sometime tomorrow morning who we’ll face,” Vulin said following the loss. “I’ll get as much information as I can and we’ll go after it.”
Heuwetter said her team suffered a bitter defeat deep into the playoffs last year, so the Blue Devils are looking for a comeback performance heading into this year’s postseason. Huntington goes into the postseason as the No. 6 seed, and will host No. 11 Half Hollow Hills West on Friday at 5 p.m.
“We really want it,” she said. “Last year we went deep into the playoffs, but we were really upset that we couldn’t get farther, so we’ll use last years’ playoff defeat as motivation to get as far as we can this year.”