The Pierson girls basketball team lost, 54-44, to Friends Academy in the Class C Long Island Championship at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue on Tuesday evening.
The loss effectively ends the season for the Lady Whalers, who were two victories away from reaching the New York State Championships.
Friends Academy, which has now won back-to-back Long Island titles, will play in the Regional Finals at New Rochelle High School on Saturday at noon against the winner of the Section I-Section IX game.
Pierson kept the game close for the entire first half, trailing just 20-18 when both teams went into the locker rooms at halftime. But the second half belonged to Friends and its big front court in sophomore captain Lindsay O’Sullivan and senior captain Rose Mangiarotti.
The Lady Quakers continually went to O’Sullivan and Mangiarotti in the post, and the strategy led to a 15-3 run in the middle of the third quarter. Friends held a commanding 38-26 lead by the end of the third.
It was much of the same in the fourth. Both teams emptied their benches with 1:35 remaining in the game, usually signaling that the game is basically over. But Pierson never gave up.
Seniors Sol Varela and Ashley Nill, who just checked into the game, hit back-to-back jump shots, and senior Kasey Gilbride completed a three-point play when she was fouled and hit her free throw. Senior May Evjen then added a layup—and, all of a sudden, the Lady Whalers trailed by nine points with 33.9 seconds remaining. But that deficit proved to be too much, and Friends eventually celebrated its victory.
Pierson head coach Kevin Barron, coming into the game, was worried about Friends’ front-court duo of O’Sullivan and Mangiarotti—and rightfully so. “The height difference hurt us,” he said, following the game. “They were able to get the ball down low in the post, and then when we tried to drive, they stopped us.
“We couldn’t get things going in the second half,” he continued. “We came out very strong—we had a great first half—we just couldn’t keep things going, and then they started to pound it in the post.”
O’Sullivan scored a game-high 23 points, while Mangiarotti scored 13 points, both more than Pierson’s leading scorer, Gilbride, who finished with 12. Evjen scored all of her nine points in the second half, while senior Bridget Canavan and sophomore Erica Selyukova each scored six points.
As the season comes to a close, the Lady Whalers will say goodbye to the majority of its senior-laden team. Canavan, Evjen, Gilbride, Nill, Varela, Sydney Mitchell and Ellis Sheil are all slated to graduate in June. Barron will miss all of them.
“I love them like daughters,” he said. “I’ve coached a lot of them since eighth grade. Coached them four or five years, some as the JV coach. I’m going to miss them like crazy. It’s going to be hard to replace them.
“We’ve rebuilt this program,” Barron added. “We haven’t won championships in a long time in girls basketball. It’s because of them, their hard work, their leadership, that we’ve gotten to where we are.”