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Kiera Ramaliu

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Lauren Hansen drives around a Commack defender. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Patriots are in it to win it.

Taylor Tripptree leaps up to the rim for the score. Photo by Bill Landon

Looking for redemption Feb. 3, the Ward Melville girls’ basketball team outscored Commack at home, 62-47, to remain in contention for a share of the League I title.

The first time the two top-seeded teams faced off, on Jan. 10, Ward Melville led Commack heading into the fourth quarter, but lost the game by four points, 59-55. Senior Taylor Tripptree said she knew her Patriots needed to end the game strong in order to pull away with the win.

“In our last game against them our defense fell short in the fourth quarter,” she said. “So this time around we made sure to stay on them and not give up, because the fourth quarter is Commack’s game.”

And defense was the name of the game.

Four minutes in, the game was tied just 2-2 before Tripptree tripled to take a 5-2 advantage. After sophomore Lauren Hansen hit a three-pointer of her own and senior Kiera Ramaliu also posted a trifecta, Tripptree hit a buzzer-beating field goal to put her team ahead 13-8 at the end of eight minutes.

Kiera Ramaliu at the free-throw line. Photo by Bill Landon

The Patriots’ defense flexed its muscles in the second and third quarter, holding Commack to 6 and 7 points, respectively, while outscoring the Cougars 26-13 over the span.

“They got some shots, but we got the rebounds,” Hansen said.

Leading 39-21 heading into the final quarter, Ward Melville put on the full-court press to not give Commack the quarter that previously led to their demise.

Although Commack held the advantage in the final stanza, Ward Melville also put up big numbers, with the away team outscoring the Patriots 26-23 in the final eight minutes. Sophomore Bre Cohn hit a pair of back-to-back three-pointers, Hansen hit her second trey of the game and added a field goal and free-throw point, Ramaliu swished a field goal and went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line, and Tripptree banked two from the charity stripe to put the game out of reach.

Hansen led Ward Melville with 17 points, Tripptree had 14 and Ramaliu added 11.

“We were winning in the fourth quarter in that first game, but we didn’t play great defense,” Ward Melville head coach Bruce Haller said. “Today, I heard them say, ‘this is the quarter. This is their quarter. This was the quarter where they beat us last time,’ and they all knew it. I didn’t have to emphasize it, so they stepped up their defense.”

Hannah Lorenzen moves through traffic. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior Hannah Lorenzen said her team worked harder every day in practice for the defeat over Commack.

“It feels good that all of our hard work paid off,” she said. “It was our defense and our rebounding — in practice we focused on boxing out and not allowing them to have second and third shots.”

With the win, the Ward Melville and Commack are 11-1 with two games left in the regular season.

“You like to challenge yourself against the best — they’re ranked No. 1 in Suffolk County,” Haller said of Commack. “The kids just stepped up and did what they had to do. They played great defense and I think that was the difference in the game.”

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Taylor Tripptree dribbles around a defender in a game last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Without size, the Patriots will sprint into battle this season.

The Ward Melville girls’ basketball team lost height in graduating senior Heidi Scarth and junior Brooke Pikiell. Pikiell moved, following her father — former Stony Brook men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell — taking a head coach position at Rutgers University.

Now that no Patriot will be over 5 feet, 9 inches, speed and pressure on the court will be the name of Ward Melville’s game.

“We’ll have to work on neutralizing [taller players] on the boards with good fundamentals and keeping those [taller players] on the middle of the court with a full-court press and pressure defense,” Ward Melville head coach Bruce Haller said. “If we’re good at keeping games in transition, I think we have a chance to be very successful this year.”

Kiera Ramaliu passes the ball in a game last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Kiera Ramaliu passes the ball in a game last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Co-captain Kiera Ramaliu said that to achieve that, the team is working on executing plays on both sides of the court to remain a contender.

“Our team is a more guard-based team, but we’re working on transition every day,” she said. “Speed is definitely one of the main things we rely on, but we still get a lot of rebounds, even though we’re short. We also all have a really good outside shot — there are six or seven of us who can bang down threes so easily. We can draw on attack really well, our kick-outs are great and we don’t just rely on speed.”

Last season, the No. 1 Patriots lost in the Suffolk County quarterfinals. Despite the upset to Sachem, which Ward Melville had outscored two times in the regular season, Haller likes what he’s seeing.

“We have exceptional three-point shooters and exceptional ball handlers and defenders that are going to have to play selflessly, continue to develop chemistry and force the other teams to play at the speed we want to play,” Haller said. “There’s no secret here. Anyone who looks at our roster knows how we’re going to play the game.”

But what opponents haven’t seen for a season is sophomore guard Lauren Hansen — an All-Conference player who led the team in points as an eighth grader. She was out last year following ankle surgery, but made every practice and watched each game from the bench.

“If she stays healthy, Lauren will be one of the best point guards in Suffolk County,” Haller said. “She’s been playing well so far, and it’ll be great to have her. I think we have one of the best perimeter teams in Suffolk County — her strength adds to what already was our strength.”

Those strengths are speed, aggression and her outside shot, according to Ramaliu.

“Having her out, it did hurt us, but we did also have the height then,” she said. “Now that we’ve lost that, we need Lauren out there shooting threes, bringing up the balls. She’s one of our main point guards this year and I think she’ll be an impact player.”

Julia Coletti moves the ball under the hoop in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
Julia Coletti moves the ball under the hoop in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

Hansen said she is looking forward to getting back on the court.

“Since I’ve already created chemistry with them, it makes it easier to come out and play,” she said. “Every day, we’re playing better and better together; we know each other well enough that we know where we’re going to go on the court and we flow from offense to defense.”

She’ll be looking to seniors Ramaliu and co-captain Taylor Tripptree, whose toughness, shooting ability, and leadership skills help steer the team in the right direction, Hansen said.

Commanding the 18-2 Patriots last season was Tripptree, with 262 points on 69 free throws, 62 field goals and 23 three-pointers. Ramaliu ended the season with 164 points on 39 field goals, 29 free throws and 19 three-pointers; and junior guard Julia Coletti tacked on 165 team points off 35 field goals, 25 three-pointers and 20 free throws.

Chemistry, according to senior forward Tripptree, will bring the team further into the postseason.

“Practice is good — we are getting into a groove,” she said. “Our team has good chemistry since we all basically have been playing together for two or more years. We also have young girls who will work hard and be tough on the court at all times.”

Ward Melville opens the season with a nonleague game against Central Islip Dec. 4 at 1 p.m.

“We came up short last season. We have something to prove and we’re looking to go further this season,” Hansen said. “We want to finish what we started.”

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Junior Taylor Tripptree tallies 18 points in win

Ward Melville junior Taylor Tripptree moves through traffic in the Patriots' 55-49 nonleague home win over Islip on Dec. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Behind junior Taylor Tripptree’s 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, the Ward Melville girls’ basketball team was able to edge ahead of nonleague competitor Islip Saturday and maintain its advantage after the first quarter to earn a 55-49 victory.

“I think we honestly played a very, very good game,” Tripptree said. “They’re a very good team and we did what we had to do to do against two Division I and two Division II girls. We played as a team and I think that’s what won us the game.”

Ward Melville junior Brook Pikiell dribbles the ball up the court in the Patriots' 55-49 nonleague win over Islip on Dec. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Ward Melville junior Brook Pikiell dribbles the ball up the court in the Patriots’ 55-49 nonleague win over Islip on Dec. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Islip got on the board first with two free throws, but a free throw by junior Julia Coletti and a layup by Tripptree put the team out in front, 3-2. The two teams continued to trade scores, with junior guard Brooke Pikiell scoring a three-pointer and a layup and Tripptree adding another field goal, but at the end of the first, the teams were in a stalemate at 10-10.

“We really need to work on our second-shot opportunities and staying in [to] help against a big girl,” Tripptree said.

Ward Melville had trouble sinking its shots, but during the second stanza, the Patriots began to find their rhythm. Islip scored first, again, and made another field goal to jump out in front, 14-10, but the lead didn’t last for long.

With 5:12 left in the half, Tripptree tacked on a three-pointer of her own to pull within one, 14-13, and senior Heidi Scarth scored two field goals, the first off an assist from Pikiell, to give the Patriots the lead for good.

Ward Melville rounded out the scoring for the first half with a three-pointer to bring the score to 22-18.

Junior Kiera Ramaliu opened the third with a long field goal, and Islip edged close after a field goal and two free-throw points, but the Patriots wouldn’t let the Buccaneers stay close for long.

Tripptree began a six-point scoring run with a field goal, and Pikiell scored twice in a row to put the Patriots up 30-22.

Ward Melville junior Kiera Ramaliu maintains possession while looking for the open lane to move the ball in the Patriots' Dec. 12 55-49 nonleague win over Islip. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Ward Melville junior Kiera Ramaliu maintains possession while looking for the open lane to move the ball in the Patriots’ Dec. 12 55-49 nonleague win over Islip. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Tripptree assisted on her team’s next points, and followed it up with another layup, and at the end of three quarters Ward Melville was ahead 40-29.

“You’ve gotta run and you’ve gotta pressure,” Ward Melville head coach Bruce Haller told his girls on the sidelines before the start of the final stanza.

And the girls raced across the court and pressured the ball, converting turnovers and forcing steals to trip up Islip.

“We prepared for this a lot,” Pikiell said. “We made sure we knew their zone and we knew who their good kids were and we just made sure we had a body on them at all times. I think we ran and tired them out a lot, and I think we really worked together on defense, which helped against their bigger girls.”

The teams continued to trade points, but Ward Melville managed to maintain its advantage to pull away with the win.

Behind Tripptree was Pikiell with nine points, and Scarth with eight, but five other girls also scored.

“Everyone contributed to this,” Pikiell said. “We’ve come together very well. We only lost one player last year and a couple of players came up, but we were all already very close beforehand, so I think we’re playing great together.”