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.
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.
“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.
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.