On February 13, 2013, the girls’ basketball team prevailed 40-22 in a Suffolk County semifinal victory over Pierson on their way to a seventh County title in eight years. In the four years since that match-up, the two rivals have traveled down widely divergent paths as the Bears have not returned to the playoffs while the Whalers have asserted themselves as a Class C power, earning berths in the last four County Championships and winning three consecutive titles from 2014-2016.
Coming into Friday night’s League VII showdown, our girls had dropped eight straight games to Pierson by an average margin of 23.5 points. Any hope of ending that streak seemed to dim as starters and key reserves began to fall like dominoes over the last several weeks. In total, four key players were unavailable against a Pierson team that looks to once again contend for the Suffolk title. In an inspiring display of courage and resilience, the Bears faced the great challenge in front of them and prevailed, taking a huge step as a young team.
Pierson opened the game with two straight scores sandwiched around a Niamh Scanlon jumper, to take an early 4-2 lead. Incredibly, that would be the Whalers’ last lead of the game. The first of Beth Felix’s three 3-pointers gave the Bears the lead and ignited an 8-0 run that sent an early message to everyone in Swanson that, despite the odds stacked against them, the Bears had come to play. Leka Lee-Maeba followed with a block, Danielle Graves hit a free throw, and Felix and Lee-Maeba put back offensive rebounds to thrust the Brook into a 10-4 lead. Pierson followed with a run of their own to knot the game at 10-10, but a second Scanlon jumper and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Graves gave the Brook a 15-10 lead after one.
In the opening minutes of the second quarter, the Bears showed that their play in the opening frame was not an anomaly as they pushed their lead to 19-11 following layups from Lee-Maeba and Felix. The defense proved stout in the early going as well as Felix and Lee-Maeba picked up steals while Graves rejected a Pierson shot attempt. Each time Pierson scored, the Bears stemmed the tide with an answer of their own, a theme that would continue in the tense quarters to follow. Graves answered a Pierson score with a jumper, and Felix followed the next two Pierson scores with tough finishes that kept the Bears ahead, 26-17. The Whalers closed the quarter with consecutive buckets to pull within 26-21 at the half.
Scanlon’s play continued to belie her age–she’s only a seventh-grader–as she connected on two jumpers to open the third quarter, keeping the Bear lead at five. The quarter was a defensive struggle for both sides, but the Whalers gained the upper hand with two baskets in the closing seconds to pull within 31-32 entering the fourth quarter.
Pierson turned on their full-court press for the first time to open the final frame and, without two key ball-handlers, the Bears struggled to break it consistently. However, the girls continued to battle and do just enough to stay ahead of the surging East Enders. Felix opened the quarter with a free throw, then connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to push the Blue and White lead to 39-31 two minutes in. The Whalers continued to attack, but a Graves block and steals on consecutive possessions by Felix, Lee-Maeba, and Liz Robbins kept the them at bay. From there, the Bears answered every single Pierson score the rest of the way in an impressive display of resilience. After a Pierson and-1 that closed the gap to 39-35, Graves connected on a free throw. The Bears then answered the next five Pierson scores with a Felix layup, a Robbins free throw, a Lee-Maeba layup, a Lee-Maeba putback, and a Lee-Maeba free throw. The Bears closed the game with huge consecutive stops and defensive rebounds while clinging to a one-possession lead before Felix connected on a free throw with 0.2 seconds left to seal the win.
The victory was the Bears’ most significant since their County Championship victory over Southold in 2013. The fight and mental toughness of our girls cannot be overstated. Pierson is well-coached, highly skilled, and tough, yet our young team, despite missing valuable personnel, simply found a way.
Felix led all scorers with 23 while Scanlon (9), Lee-Maeba (9), Graves (7), and Robbins (4) provided vital support.
The Bears are back in action today in a home match-up with Mercy.