By Joseph Zapata
With sweat on their brows and smiles on their faces, Commack’s varsity girls basketball team celebrated in triumph as the final buzzer went off, sealing a 51-50 victory over the Baldwin Bruins to become the 2014 Class AA Long Island Champions.
The night ended in Commack’s favor, but the game was anything but a cakewalk. The Cougars had no answer for the Bruins’ swarming defense and was held to only 9 points in the first quarter.
After some time to settle down, Commack found its rhythm. The Cougars used a variety of quick passes and acrobatic lay-ups to take control of the game, and ended the first half with a 23-17 lead.
In the third quarter, Baldwin regained momentum by hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to cut the Cougars’ lead to only 3. Even in the final eight minutes, the Bruins never lost steam. They continued to hound the Cougars on defense and forced numerous turnovers and errand passes.
“[The Bruins] are probably the best coached team in Long Island. They were exactly what we thought they would be, tenacious and nasty and wouldn’t go away for 32 minutes,” said Commack Assistant Coach Glenn Lavey.
With only 5:35 left in the game, Baldwin hit a crucial layup to take a 36-35 lead. The game continued to go back and fourth until Commack’s Chelsea Schultz hit a clutch free throw to take a 51-49 lead with only seven seconds remaining.
As the clock ticked down, the Bruins drove up the court and heaved up a final shot that clanked off the rim as the buzzer went off. The Commack crowd rejoiced until they realized the referee had called a foul.
The game was on the line with only .5 seconds on the clock when Tiara Place stepped to the free throw line with her team down by 2 points. Her first shot landed, but her second attempt bounced off the back of the rim, and Commack grabbed the rebound to seal the championship victory.
“I was just really happy for the girls on our team because of how hard they worked,” said Commack head coach Denis Conroy.
Jaclyn DelliSanti and Shultz led the Cougars on offense with 12 points each. Dellisanti entered the game as Commack’s leading scorer, averaging 17.1 points per contest.
“[DelliSanti] has been, on the offensive side, our security blanket,” Conroy said.
Commack’s work isn’t over yet. Next, they advance to the state semifinals, which will be held at Hudson Valley Community College on Friday, March 20.