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.’”