By Bill Landon
Win or lose, Mount Sinai’s girls’ basketball team earned the right to represent Suffolk County in the Class A Long Island championship game. But first, Section XI bragging rights were on the line, and although the Mustangs led by as much as 12 points against Class AA winner Central Islip, the Buccaneers floored it in the final two minutes to come away with a 51-42 win.
“This is a game where we said to ourselves this is a good look for us,” Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo said. “[Central Islip] plays a similar style of basketball to [Nassau County’s] Elmont, with great defense. So we’ll go back to work, we’ll focus on getting back on defense and eliminating scoring the easy layups in transition. But I couldn’t be more proud of my girls and what they’ve accomplished this season.”
Central Islip jumped out to a 12-4 lead after five minutes of play at Suffolk County Community College’s Selden campus March 5, but the Mustangs scored four unanswered points to close the gap to four points, 12-8, at the end of the first quarter.
Senior center Veronica Venezia continued to do what she’s done all season, battling in the paint to score another putback, to pull within two before junior Olivia Williams followed with a putback of her own to tie the game, 12-12, with 2:46 left in the first half.
Mount Sinai sophomore Gabriella Sartori drove the lane and wasn’t taking no for an answer as she fought her way to the rim for the score that gave the Mustangs their first lead of the game. Despite Central Islip answering with a 3-pointer, Sartori followed it up with a baseline drive where she was fouled while scoring, and completed the three-point play. At halftime, Mount Sinai was up by three points,18-15.
Sartori opened the second half like she finished the first, driving to the basket for back-to-back scores. Senior Victoria Johnson banked two points and Venezia also added a bucket from the paint. The referees called a tight game, and both teams traded points from the charity stripe. At the end of the eight minutes, Mount Sinai was still protecting a three-point lead, 36-33.
Central Islip scored back-to-back field goals to retake the lead for the first time since the opening quarter, but Venezia found the rim from down low to pull within one point, 42-41, but Mount Sinai would come no closer.
Central Islip edged ahead slowly, leaning on the shot clock, which forced Mount Sinai to foul. The Buccaneers continued to make each opportunity count, edging ahead point by point until time expired.
“Although we could’ve not fouled and lost by three or four, we were trying to go for the win and I’m proud of my girls,” Pappalardo said. “We can play with anybody and you can see that.”
Who goes home with the Long Island championship title will be decided March 11, when Mount Sinai takes on Elmont at SUNY Old Westbury at noon.