"This definitely feels much better than last year," said Sachem East Basketball star Katie Doherty just moments after she and her teammates hoisted their Class AA Suffolk County Championship plaque. She was referring to a tough loss in the semifinals last year against Hauppauge. "This year we came in, we didn't want to lose, we felt the sting of last year," Doherty said.
And they didn't lose. The Flaming Arrows jumped out in front early and stayed there, defeating the No. 1 seeded North Babylon Bulldogs 57-49 at Ward Melville High School last night.
Doherty was a big part of the victory, leading the team with 24 points on the night, including some big baskets late in the game when North Babylon shaved what was a 20-point lead down to just six with five minutes to go.
Sachem East went into the locker room up by five and stayed true to their playoff run this year, coming out in the second half and lighting it up. Back-to-back three-pointers from Emily Carmel and Katie Doherty helped open the lead to 20 before the Bulldogs went on a 21-7 run and made it interesting down the stretch. As the score narrowed, loud and raucous supporters in the Sachem stands got eerily quiet, but the team didn't seem phased.
"We have a more experienced team," Doherty said. "With experience comes mental toughness and we stayed up."
"That's talent on the other team," said Head Coach Matt Brisson. "They were the number-one seed, the kids just had to withstand their run, and they did and we were able to hold them."
Emily Carmel pitched in for the victory with 15 points, including some key three-pointers, Kathleen Everson had 12 points and Allie Drake notched seven hard-earned points mostly off rebounds. Both Allie and Sammy Drake were the unsung heroes of the night, pulling down board after board and dishing the ball back out for scoring opportunities.
"One of the things that doesn't show up in box scores is all the extra possessions that kids like [Allie and Sammy] give you," Brisson said. "They dig out loose balls, they get extra rebounds. Those kids are priceless and when you have a team you have to have all kinds of workers and they're really special for us."
"The Drakes are awesome," said Doherty. "They're not afraid of anybody; they're going to box out and make you fight to get the ball and it helped us today."
Sachem East will now play in a slightly less important Large School-Small School Suffolk overall championship against either Southampton or Harborfields on Friday. Then it's off to Hofstra University to face Massapequa in the Long Island Championship game.
For now, winning the Class AA crown was a nice return to 2010 for Brisson. "We've come up short a few times," Brisson said. "But these kids were on a mission. That was one of their themes all year was 'unfinished business.' They did a nice job closing it up."