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Riverhead surges past Baldwin, wins first L.I. Championship
Jay Mumford

Riverhead Head Coach David Spinella let his players know the verdict at the mid-point of the biggest game of their young lives thus far: Now or never.

“Coach asked us at halftime, ‘Do you want this?’” said senior point guard Jalyn Brown. “Especially us seniors.”

The Riverhead Blue Waves were in the midst of a nip and tuck-style run that slowly chipped away at Baldwin’s early lead and met its match with a late game counter-run from the Lady Bruins. The second half was the time to put the pedal to the metal, and the Suffolk champs did just that - they held on to knock off Nassau champion Baldwin, 56-50, and win their first ever Long Island championship.

Riverhead’s pivotal run had the fingerprints of a total team effort and an allegiance to defense all over it, but none were more noticeable than those of the senior Melodee Riley.

“Melodee stepped up tremendously,” gushed Brown of her teammate, who dominated the glass with a whopping 17 rebounds to go with her team high 18 points. “Whenever we drove to the basket, we knew she’d be there for the rebound.”

In addition to out-hustling the Lady Bruins’ sizable front court for boards, Riley always seemed to provide an answer when the Blue Waves needed one. She kept them afloat when Baldwin came out fully-pumped in the first quarter. She gave Riverhead a 41-40 lead in the fourth quarter when both teams were scrapping for momentum during crunch time. She hustled a big time steal and converted on the other end to give her squad a 45-40 lead. And her hard fought put back to tie the game at 48 set Riverhead up for their game deciding momentum.

The Blue Waves didn’t get much outside shooting, but the two consecutive treys they got from senior sniper Marta Czaplak (6 points) were instrumental in the long grind to a secure lead. Tough play from junior Shanice Allen (11 points) kept Baldwin honest. Then there was Brown, who made key defensive contributions all game long. (One of which was a charge that sent Baldwin center Janae Degraff to the bench with her fifth foul.) Plays like those also inched Riverhead into the double bonus, where they secured the win with a solid 11-15 showing from the charity stripe in the final period.

“Foul shots and family,” Brown responded to question about the keys to the Blue Waves pulling away.

Junior Kaila Nazario (11 points) nailed 5 of 6 down the stretch. Brown hit 3 of 4. Riley went 2 for 2. And with each swish from the charity stripe, Baldwin’s uphill climb was pitted against the clock even more closely. But the Bruins weren’t without their moments of brilliance, and most of them came from senior guard Alex Hampton.

The Riverhead crowd taunted her for a reason - she’s an assassin. Half of her game high 20 points came in the fourth quarter, where she carried the Lady Bruins on her back with her uber quickness and prowess scoring the ball.

“Playing Baldwin was like looking in the mirror,” Brown said.

Riley agreed: “We haven’t played anyone as fast as Baldwin.”

But in the battle of the similar teams, one had to win. Missed chip shots and rebound opportunities, turnovers, and poor shot selection at points throughout the game came back to haunt the Lady Bruins. Despite Hampton’s performance and a 15 point outing from Amber Harrison, the slow and deadly Riverhead run reigned supreme. And that came back to wanting it more.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Riley offered after the game. “I lost my voice I was screaming so much, but this feeling is so great.”

“This is the greatest accomplishment of my life,” offered Brown, who scored 9 points. “Every game is about family. I can’t do this without my teammates and we won this as a family.”

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