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Gillian Kenah

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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.”

—Gillian Kenah

“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.”

 

By Bill Landon

In his book The Precious Present, Spencer Johnson wrote: “I can chose to be happy now, or I can try to be happy when, or if.”

The Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team chose to live in the moment during their March 6 Long Island championship title game, stepping onto a court no Royal had walked on before. Senior Jillian Colucci was no stranger to the limelight, though. The soccer standout, used to throwing the ball inbounds during the fall season, swished a long distance shot that was just three feet inside half court to close out the first half. The buzzer-beater before halftime that capped a 9-0 run sent the crowd into frenzy, and the Royals dancing into the locker room. That happiness carried through the second half, as Port Jefferson outscored East Rockaway 67-49 for the school’s first Class C crown.

“We’re just soaking it in,” senior Corinne Scannell said of the win. “Precious Present … it’s all about living in the moment, so I guess we’ll enjoy the moment and take it from here.”

East Rockaway’s defense focused on shutting down senior Courtney Lewis all across the SUNY Old Westbury court, but it didn’t matter. Lewis fought through double-teams most of the way to score a game-high 30 points. She drove the lane over and over, and even if she didn’t score, she drew fouls to find points from the free-throw line instead. The senior went 9-for-10 from the charity stripe.

“It feels really good knowing that we did it as a team.”

—Corinne Scannell

“We knew they were going to key on Courtney, and we needed our other shooters to be willing to step up and take their shots,” Port Jefferson head coach Jessie Rosen said. “They gained confidence throughout the course of the week, and today when the opportunity was there for them. They did what they needed to do.”

Jackie Brown was first to step up, hitting long distance shots seemingly at will. The senior banked four of them in the first half. Then, it was Colucci’s shining moment. With Lewis cornered, sophomore Jocelyn Lebron passed Colucci the ball. As Colucci sprinted just beyond half court, she let the ball go as the buzzer sounded, and hit nothing but net, giving her team a 36-22 advantage heading into the break.

“There was time for one more, and I heaved it up and it just went in,” Colucci said. “I’m just absolutely speechless. To make it this far with these girls is absolutely amazing.”

Defensively, the Royals hands were everywhere. And they made their steals count. Scannell intercepted a pass, and dished it off to Colucci, who went coast to coast for the score that helped the Royals break out to 43-27 lead with 4:41 left in the third.

“It feels really good knowing that we did it as a team,” Scannell said. “The things we worked on in practice were tailored to this game. It’s nice to see it all come together.”

For Brown, who chipped in 14 points, the magnitude of her team’s accomplishment hasn’t set in yet.

“I hoped we would be here at the beginning of the season — it’s awesome that we won it,” she said. “It’s really cool that we’ll have that 2017 LIC banner to hang in the gym.”

Senior Gillian Kenah echoed Brown’s sentiment.

“At the beginning of the season it was definitely a dream — I imagined us at the counties, but I wasn’t sure about this,” she said. “Honestly, it’s a dream come true.”

I know that sounds like a cliché, but when you practice like you play and play like you practice, it’s nothing short of awesome.”

—Jesse Rosen

Lewis credited the success to her team’s daily preparation.

“I knew we’d come out with intensity,” she said. “But I didn’t think we’d win by this margin.”

Rosen said he could see the team’s determination early on when he took over mid-season as the team’s head coach.

“This is an exciting group of girls — they work their absolute hardest every day,” he said. “I know that sounds like a cliché, but when you practice like you play and play like you practice, it’s nothing short of awesome.”

When the buzzer sounded, the Royals erupted in celebration as they experienced the taste of a Long Island championship for the first time. Thinking back to the short story they read prior to the game, they realized they attained that precious present.

“It is wise for me to think about the past, and to learn from my past, but it is not wise for me to be in the past for that is how I lose myself,” Johnson wrote. “It is also wise to think about the future and to prepare for my future, but it is not wise for me to be in the future for that too is how I lose myself, and when I lose myself, I lose what is most precious to me.”

Kenah said her team will savor the moment , and get back to work preparing for the next game. The Royals will face the winner of the Section I Haldane vs. Section VIIII Pine Plains in the regional finals March 9 at SUNY Old Westbury at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re going to condition tomorrow,” she said. “We have another game on Thursday, so we’ll enjoy tonight, but we’re right back at it tomorrow.”

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Royals reign over Suffolk for first time since 1927

By Bill Landon & Desirée Keegan

Jillian Colucci and Corinne Scannell know what being a part of a Port Jeff powerhouse is like. They were both on the two-time state champion girls’ soccer team. Now, they can say they are a part of another team that made history with total team dominance.

The Royals basketball team earned the school’s first Suffolk County Class C title since 1927 Feb. 18. Despite being the first team to take Port Jefferson all the way this year, the Royals hadn’t had success is the finals in seasons past. The girls went 11-1 in League VIII last season, and 10-0 the year before that, but lost to Pierson-Bridgehampton and Babylon, respectively in the final game.

This year, the girls not only made history; they got redemption with a 46-43 win over Pierson.

Senior Courtney Lewis, who scored a team-high 12 points, was limited well below her 27.3 points-per-game average. She and classmate Jillian Colucci were forced to watch the final minutes of the game from the bench, after fouling out as the 13-point lead they entered the fourth quarter with slowly shrank.

“Honestly, it was very stressful and everyone else on the team stepped up,” Lewis said of watching the end of the fourth quarter transpire. “They just played really well today.”

The Royals led 38-25 heading into the final eight minutes of regulation. That’s when momentum shifted the Whalers’ way. The team slowly chipped away at the deficit, with Nia Dawson, who scored a game-high 17 points, leading the way.

With two of the team’s primary ball handlers sidelined, Port Jefferson head coach Jesse Rosen said his bench players were remarkable.

“They may not have been comfortable in the situation they were put in on the court — especially in a pressure situation — but they stepped up and did a nice job,” he said.

Protecting a six-point lead at that point, Port Jefferson was sent to the free-throw line, but couldn’t cash in. Pierson had the same opportunity on the other end, and used it to lessen the Royals’ advantage to four points. Coming down to the wire, Pierson’s Isabel Peters went to the stripe and sank both of her free throws with 17 seconds left in the game.

Port Jefferson sophomore Jocelyn Lebron added a free-throw to extend Port Jefferson’s advantage to three points. Port Jefferson senior Corinne Scannell had an opportunity to put the championship away when she was fouled with eight seconds left, and she didn’t disappoint.

“No matter how much they were gaining on us, we still had the lead and we had to keep that in perspective,” Scannell said. “We put pressure on ourselves, we played as a team and we pushed ourselves.”

Lebron said despite being one of the younger members of the squad, she too knew what her Royals had to do.

“When they got close, we just had to slow this game down a little bit, but keep our energy up,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier with this experience.”

Rosen said he gave his girls some words of advice during the fourth quarter.

“I said to them that runs are inevitable,” he said. “Things like that are going to happen and the key is to be able to weather the run.”

Colucci credited her teammates for how they handled the game’s final minutes, but not before she tipped her hat to her opponents, especially for being the team to top the Royals last year.

“It’s always a tough game against Pierson — they never give up and they play us really hard — but we just had to keep our composure,” she said. “We all made eye contact, we relaxed and we slowed the game down. We tried not to let the crowd get us frazzled and we kept our heads in the game.”

Behind Lewis were Colucci and Scannell with 11 points each. Colucci swished two 3-pointers and Scannell had a double-double with 12 rebounds. Senior Gillian Kenah finished with five points, Lebron added four and freshman Samantha Ayotte scored once, with a shot from beyond the arc.

Port Jefferson will take on Class B’s winner of the Feb. 21 Mattituck and McGann-Mercy matchup for the small school championship title at Riverhead High School Feb. 24 at 4 p.m.

While the team is to get ready for the next game, Rosen said just wants his team to take in the moment first.

“I told them to just savor the win,” he said. “We’ll talk X’s and O’s another time.”

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Jillian Colucci makes her way to the basket untouched after forcing a tunrover. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The No. 1-seeded Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team stayed toe-to-toe with its No. 2 Pierson/Bridgehampton challenger through two quarters on Tuesday, but as time wound down, the hole the Royals found themselves in grew too deep to pull out of. The team fell 69-50 in the Suffolk County Class C finals at Riverhead High School.

“We had a fantastic season,” Port Jefferson head coach Ed Duddy said. “We started out slow, and they all came together to go on a 10-game streak. We won the league, which I didn’t expect at all, and it all came down to this game … and [Pierson/Bridgehampton] won the war.”

The girls also came together in the first 16 minutes of the game.

Port Jefferson junior forward Courtney Lewis scored the first points of a matchup that was just seven seconds old, but a minute later, Pierson countered to even the score. Lewis did it again, and after the Whalers tacked on another field goal, she added a free-throw point. She followed it up with her third field goal to put the Royals out front, 7-4. The junior banked two more points off a layup in the quarter but her team let up on defense, and the Royals were down 16-11 heading into the second quarter.

This time, it was Pierson that scored first, with a 3-pointer, followed by the two teams trading field goals before junior guard Jillian Colucci’s free-throw point made it 21-14.

After another Whalers field goal, Colucci’s own field goal and three free-throw points and junior guard Annabelle Soucy’s 3-pointer helped draw the Royals within one, 23-22. But that was as close as Port Jefferson would come the rest of the way.

“We didn’t tighten up the defense like I thought we were gonna, but also our shots didn’t fall,” Duddy said. “We got into foul trouble a little bit, but that’s the way it goes.”

Despite back-to-back treys by Soucy and Colucci, and a Lewis trifecta with 1:06 left in the third, the Royals deficit remained as a result of the lack of pressure under the boards.

Up 52-44, Pierson went on a 10-point streak before Port Jefferson junior forward Gillian Kenah scored the Royals’ first points of the quarter off an offense rebound from a missed Soucy attempt, with 2:56 left to play.

Duddy said he thought his girls got frustrated after the Whalers knocked down some threes and long field goals. He added that the Royals switched between man-to-man and zone defense and passed the ball to try to minimize the damage, but to no avail.

Lewis finished with a team-high 21 points, Colucci added 11 and Soucy finished with eight.

Despite the season being cut short, Duddy said his Royals can walk away from this season with their heads held high, as it has consistently been able to improve with each season.

“We’ve done a lot of things,” he said. “We just have to take it to that next level come the playoffs. We’re all coming back next year, and [Pierson’s team will] all be back, too. But I’m proud of my girls. I told them in the locker room that I couldn’t ask any more of them.”

With every player returning to the roster next season, the Royals will be looking to make another postseason run, and Duddy is hoping to send them off on a high note.

“I’ve been with them since they were freshmen, and I want to see them out as seniors,” he said.

When asked if he thinks his team can continue to reach new heights, Duddy said, “Hell yeah. I told them, ‘If you’re in, I’m in.’”

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Port Jefferson's Courtney Lewis, who scored a double-double off a game-high 32 points and 10 rebounds, goes up for a layup in the Royals' 55-31 win over Southold/Greenport on Jan. 25 to extend their winning streak to six games. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Behind Courtney Lewis’ double-double Monday night, the Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team kept the ball rolling with a 55-31 victory over Southold/Greenport to extend the Royals’ winning streak to six games.

Port Jefferson's Courtney Lewis reaches up to the board. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Courtney Lewis reaches up to the board. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Lewis recorded 32 points, 10 rebounds and six assits.

“They’re starting to come together,” Port Jefferson head coach Ed Duddy said. “We started off slow in the beginning … [but] now I think everyone knows their role.”

Port Jefferson had trouble getting shots to fall until Lewis’ field goal at the 5:17 mark, which started the junior forward and guard’s 10-point tear in the first quarter.

“She’s a great captain,” junior point guard Jillian Colucci said of Lewis. “She boosts us all up and she’s so talented. Her scoring gets us all going and gets us working hard.”

Southold remained in the game by scoring seven points to Lewis’ 10, but Port Jefferson sophomore guard Annabelle Soucy nailed a three-pointer with 30.6 seconds left to extend the Royals’ lead.

Lewis tacked on a three-point play to start the second stanza and then added four more points while Colucci tacked on a three-pointer to put Port Jefferson up 23-20 at halftime.

But the Royals were just getting warmed up.

Port Jefferson's Annabelle Soucy drives to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Annabelle Soucy drives to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Our coach’s halftime speech motivated us to come out stronger in the second half,” Lewis said. “I think our teamwork and team chemistry was great. We had a lot of assists and connected our passes a lot, and our fast breaks were great today.”

Those fast breaks and assists helped the Royals jump out to a 43-25 lead by the end of the third, with Lewis scoring 11 of the team’s 20 points and Colucci adding six.

In the final quarter, the Royals limited Southold to just two points by the 2:22 mark, while scoring eight more of their own. Southold added a field goal and two free throws in the final minutes, but Lewis added two free throws of her own to finish 9-for-10 from the charity stripe on the evening, and Soucy completed the scoring with a layup.

Colucci finished with 11 points and eight rebounds to help Port Jefferson to a 7-1 record in League VII.

“It’s Courtney, it’s Jillian, it’s a little bit of everybody,” Duddy said. “Jillian had a terrific game today. She did everything a point guard has to do with great passes and great defense and assists, but Annabelle and Jackie Brown have been playing very well, too. They’re all part of the team, but I think they all feed off of Courtney, and when she gets double- or triple-teamed she can kick it out to her teammates and they get easy layups.”

Port Jefferson's Jillian Colucci crosses the ball into Southold/Greenport's zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Jillian Colucci crosses the ball into Southold/Greenport’s zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan

As the team moves forward with only one loss in its conference, Colucci said the Royals have their sights on the top spot in the league, where Mattituck currently sits at 10-1.

But the point guard said she’s confident in her team’s ability after the Royals edged out Mattituck, 53-52, back on Jan. 11.

“That was a really good booster for us,” Colucci said. “But since we’re a core group of juniors that have been playing together for so long, the teamwork that we’ve developed helps us most.”

Lewis said the team had a rough first half the season, starting it off with losses to Comsewogue, Mount Sinai and Pierson/Bridgehampton, but has come together to propel the Royals to their winning streak.

“This is my favorite sport and my favorite team,” Lewis said. “They’re all so great and we all help each other do better. We had a rough first half of the season but we picked it up and we took off. We don’t want to lose another game. We want to finish the season on a streak.”

Port Jefferson junior Courtney Lewis scores a game-high 23 points in the Royals' 61-55 win

Miller Place's Milan Hatcher knocks down a layup in the Panthers' 61-55 nonleague loss to Port Jefferson. Photo by Bill Landon
Port Jefferson's Courtney Lewis drives the baseline in the Royals' 61-55 nonleague win over Miller Place on Dec. 12. Photo by Bill Landon
Port Jefferson’s Courtney Lewis drives the baseline in the Royals’ 61-55 nonleague win over Miller Place on Dec. 12. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Behind junior Courtney Lewis’ game-high 23 points, Port Jefferson led most of the way, until late in the third quarter when Miller Place rallied back to take a three-point lead, but the Royals bounced back midway through the fourth, defeating their nonleague challenger on the road Saturday morning, 61-55.

With a roster void of seniors, the Royals played beyond their years as they controlled the tempo of the game, leading 19-10 after the first quarter, and took a 31-25 advantage into the halftime break.

The Panthers closed the gap with two minutes left in the third quarter, when sophomore Ally Tarantino scored a put-back off a rebound to tie the game at 37-37, and senior Milan Hatcher answered next, driving the lane and muscling her way to the rim for the score to put her team out front for the first time in the game, 39-37. Hatcher had a hot hand in the third, scoring 11 of her total 15 points, including a pair of three-pointers. At the end of the stanza, Miller Place held a 40-39 lead.

“I told my players to keep running plays; keep calm, and we had to play good defense because [Port Jefferson has] good shooters,” Hatcher said. “They like to drive and kick out. They’re a good team.”

With 4:09 left in the game, the Panthers clung to a three-point lead, out in front 49-46.

Miller Place's Milan Hatcher knocks down a layup in the Panthers' 61-55 nonleague loss to Port Jefferson. Photo by Bill Landon
Miller Place’s Milan Hatcher knocks down a layup in the Panthers’ 61-55 nonleague loss to Port Jefferson. Photo by Bill Landon

The free-throw performance was bleak, as both teams left points on the table. With her team leading 50-49, Hatcher went to the stripe shooting two, and missed both.

With just over two minutes left in the contest, still trailing by one, Port Jefferson junior Siobhan Petracca went to the line shooting two, and she too came away empty.

“It was a disappointing loss,” Miller Place senior Jessica Powers said. “We knew exactly what they had. We came up short, which hurt us, and we didn’t play as a team.”

Port Jefferson junior Gillian Kenah, who scored 16 points in the game behind Lewis’ 23, said she was impressed with the Panthers’ offensive effort.

“We played a really solid game — we came out pressing immediately and I think that worked really well for us,” Kenah said. “But they came back at us even after our press, so I applaud them for that.”

Both teams traded baskets, and Lewis went to the line shooting two, hitting the front end but missing the back, to help her team edge ahead 53-51.

Miller Place's Danielle Bamnola goes to the rim in a Dec. 12 nonleague home loss to Port Jefferson, 61-55. Photo by Bill Landon
Miller Place’s Danielle Bamnola goes to the rim in a Dec. 12 nonleague home loss to Port Jefferson, 61-55. Photo by Bill Landon

“We knew they had some good players, so we had to adjust our defense, but we did well rebounding, which is something we don’t usually do,” Lewis said. “They had two players guarding our best players in a triangle, so we had to adjust to it, to try and break that up.”

At the 1:36 mark, Tarantino, with a dominant performance on the boards, scored on another put-back to tie the game again.

“We expected them to come out strong and they did,” Tarantino said. “We came out a little flat in the first half. Coach told us after the game to keep going up strong [to the rim] and don’t fade away.”

From the 53-53 tie, the game was decided at the foul line, as both teams lost players due to foul trouble.

Port Jefferson freshman Jocelyn Lebron was fouled as she drove the lane with just over a minute left, and scored on her first free-throw attempt. Although she missed the second, Lewis grabbed the rebound for the score to give her team a 56-53 advantage.

“I thought we did very well in handling the pressure from their defense,” Lebron said. “They were what we expected, but we did well on our rebounding and our defensive pressure.”

Lewis tacked on another field goal to help push her team further ahead, 58-53. The junior scored 12 points in the final quarter.

“We missed a lot of foul shots today — we’re much better at the foul line,” Port Jefferson head coach Ed Duddy said.

Port Jefferson's Jocelyn Lebron drives to the basket and scores in the Royals' Dec. 12 61-55 victory over Miller Place. Photo by Bill Landon
Port Jefferson’s Jocelyn Lebron drives to the basket and scores in the Royals’ Dec. 12 61-55 victory over Miller Place. Photo by Bill Landon

Miller Place senior Danielle Bamnola cut the Panthers’ deficit to four with her foul-line appearance with 28 seconds left, but Port Jefferson’s soccer sensation, junior Jillian Colucci, went to the line shooting two and nailed both to maintain the six-point lead, 60-54.

Bamnola and Petracca traded points at the foul line next, to bring the final score to 61-55.

“They’re very talented with a good fast break, and that group has been together since the eighth grade,” Miller Place head coach Joe Read said. “We’ve held our opponent to 30 points a game this season and today we gave up 50, and that goes to the team aspect of it. We’re playing like individuals, especially defensively.”

Read added that despite the loss, he was happy with his team’s skill level against his opponent.

“I’m not upset with how my girls played today, other than they didn’t play as a team, and that to me was the difference,” he said. “If they can play together, they’re capable of great things.”

Miller Place will host League VI challenger Hampton Bays on Tuesday at 4 p.m., while Port Jefferson will host Mount Sinai on Thursday, in a nonleague game scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m.

This version corrects the class level of Siobhan Petracca, the total point count of Gillian Kenah, and the date of Port Jefferson’s next game.