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Richard Castellano

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By Steven Zaitz

The Power Triangle may be gone, but success roars on for the Lady Tigers.

The Northport girls basketball team picked up right where they left off pre-pandemic, as they opened the short season last Friday with an 80-32 dismantling of the Lindenhurst Bulldogs.

Daniella Pavinelli, Kelly McLaughlin and Kerry Dennin, highly decorated players that led the Lady Tigers to the Suffolk County championship in 2020, are now freshmen
in college.

However, Coach Richard Castellano has seen this movie. He has been putting together championship caliber teams for four decades and is fully aware that each player’s tenure with the team, no matter how talented they are, is so very finite.

“Yeah, we lost a few players,” said the affable Castellano in a fit of understatement. “But every team does. We try to put five girls on the floor who can score and five girls who can play defense. If we share the wealth and share the basketball, we are successful. And today we were.”

The players have obviously bought in to this style of ball as ten different Tigers registered points in this opening day rout that took place at Lindenhurst.

Juniors Sophia Bica and Sophia Yearwood led the way, combining for 40 points and 15 rebounds. As the first half lead ballooned to 20, it was Sophia and Sophia slicing and dicing through Lindenhurst’s defense, which seemed to be in no mood to guard anyone. Bica had 21 points to lead Northport with Yearwood booking 19. They both rested the entire 4th quarter.

Junior forward Allison Soule was a terror around the rim with 10 rebounds and 4 blocks, and team captain Emma Blanco had 10 points. Natalia Donofrio and Rachel Mincone added a thick layer of icing on the cake combining for 12 points in the 4th quarter, with Donofrio canning two 3-pointers, and Mincone injecting her signature brand of energy despite the lopsided score.

Lindenhurst forward Kelly Griffin, who led all scorers with 23, scored 18 of those in the first half, as the Tiger defense clamped down on her as the game wore on. The rest of Griffin’s teammates combined for only 9 points for the entire game and the Bulldogs failed to score even a single point in the 4th quarter.

“She (Griffin) was second in Suffolk County in 3-point goals last year, and we knew we had to key on her,” Castellano said. “We didn’t defend as well as I know we can in the first half.”

That might seem a little bit of a harsh critique for a team that pitched a shutout for an entire quarter of basketball, but Castellano has built both a reputation and a program that constantly strives for excellence. He and his Lady Tigers are never satisfied.

“I’m blessed to have girls who buy into the design of sharing the ball and finding the open person,” he said. “It’s something that we as a program always take pride in.”

To punctuate this resounding victory, the next day, Bica and Yearwood were listed in Newsday’s Top 100 girls basketball players on Long Island for 2021. Lindenhurst’s Griffin is also on the list.

“It is an honor to be mentioned along with these talented female athletes,” Bica said. “It is very encouraging to see that with hard work and dedication, you can achieve anything you put your mind to. I have been fortunate enough to work with great coaches and trainers who helped me develop into the player I am today.”

As has been the protocol, there were no fans in the stands as Section XI is doing everything in its power to allow high school athletics to continue uninterrupted. They have provided livestreams to many high school events that can be found on the Section XI website, www.sectionxi.org.

The Lady Tigers have a grueling schedule in the next 10 days, playing seven games.

“It doesn’t make for a lot of practice time,” Castellano said. “But these are crazy times for everyone, and we have to make the best of it.”