Without two starters, Pierson senior point guard Chastin Giles’ team-high 22 points, including four three-pointers, was just not enough to lift her Whalers in 54-43 Long Island Class C championship loss to East Rockaway March 9.
“It’s frustrating. They didn’t beat the Pierson Whalers, they only beat a part of us,” head coach Woody Kneeland said discussing the absence of junior forward Gylia Dryden and sophomore guard Sofia Mancino. “Somebody had to step up, but we didn’t step up enough.”
The Whalers (13-9) let go of a 15-7 first-quarter lead, where Giles scored nine points off a three-pointer, a grab-and-go layup, and a field goal on a breakaway, to go down 22-21 at halftime. East Rockaway’s Hunter Vertuccio led a balanced attack for the Rocks (9-11), scoring 27 points, 10 coming from the free-throw line. Her team tallied eight straight points to close out the first half on top, and finished the quarter on a 12-2 run. Pierson dropped the ball quite literally, throwing it out of bounds and missing shots and rebounds as East Rockaway racked up extra points on extra chances, leading to the school’s second regional semifinal win in the last three years.
“All season we’ve been battling the spurts, but once we got over that hurdle in the first they settled in and found a momentum,” East Rockaway head coach Cheri Poland said. “With every basket they got a little more confident.”
Riley O’Hagan (11 points) and Katy Howard (10 points) came through big in the second half. O’Hagan scored eight points, including two of her three three-point shots, during a 12-4 Rocks run to open the third. Vertuccio scored the other four. O’Hagan swished all three of her shots from beyond the arc in that quarter, her last coming with 5.9 seconds left to put East Rockaway out front 41-27 heading into the final stanza.
“We lost our composure, didn’t realize how much time was left in the game — they were just stressing,” Kneeland said. “We had a good lead, did well on offense, but we win games at this point with defense, and we didn’t execute on defense for a long stretch of time.”
Pierson came as close as 45-41 late in the fourth. Back-to-back three-pointers from Giles inside the four-minute mark and two Meredith Spolarich free throws, the second, the front end of two chances from the charity stripe at the 2:47 mark, brought the game to that score. Giles scored three beyond-the-arc shots in less than a minute-and-a-half span. She hit her first of the quarter at 6:30.
“She’s a dynamic player, and that’s the exciting part,” Kneeland said of Giles, who is still undecided as to where she’ll play in college. “She’s the most passionate kid on the team. I know it comes from the heart. She never wants to lose, and I love her and appreciate her for that.”
East Rockaway scored seven straight points after Spolarich’s free throw. The freshman tallied Pierson’s final points on a putback before Vertuccio closed things out with two shots from the charity stipe.
“Basketball is never the number one sport at Pierson, but we do pretty well,” Kneeland said. “We were undefeated last year, won the C and B/C championships this year, finsihed third in the league after losing 10 seniors (11-5). We do big things with a bunch of players that don’t always play basketball.”
The team is losing Giles, Kathryn Powell (four points), Mahlia Hemby, and Halle Kneeland, the head coach’s daughter.
Dryden, one of the team’s tallest girls, was out with a concussion she received when colliding with Giles during the small school championship game against Westhampton Beach February 29. She was cleared by a doctor, but couldn’t play until Wednesday as per Section XI rules. Mancino was out sick. The team found out the sophomore wasn’t going to play Monday morning. Those starters return with junior guards Grace Perello (seven points) and Brooke Esposito (two points).
“There’s a good core coming back,” Kneeland said. “I could tell they were a little disappointed, but there’s a lot of good, young players still at Pierson and there’s some new coming up, so the future is bright.”