Agony and ecstasy met together at the Shoreham-East Hampton girls high school basketball game here last Thursday.
A good-sized crowd had turned out to see Kaelyn Ward, who had already established herself as the highest-scoring female player in Bonac hoop history, score her 1,000th point. And, of course, the fans hoped too that their team would defeat Shoreham-Wading River.
“Only Kaelyn should have been nervous — not all of them,” East Hampton’s coach, Howard Wood, said in the wake of the disappointing 64-35 loss.
Aside from its star senior guard, no one on Bonac’s side put up a shot in the first five minutes until Courtney Dess, who was to finish with 15 points (and who was to come in for praise from Wood afterward), sank a 3-pointer, bringing the Bonackers to within seven, at 10-3.
For a few moments thereafter, it looked as if the team had awakened: Ryann Ward drew a foul in putting up a shot, and made one of her two free throws, after which Ward stole the ball at the other end of the court and outraced Shoreham’s defenders on the way to her first basket of the night, drawing loud applause. Two subsequent foul shots by her again narrowed the gap to four in the final minute before a Bonac turnover that resulted in a fast-break layup and a buzzer-beating 3 extended the visitors’ margin to 17-8.
The Wildcats, as they had in the first quarter, began the second period with a 10-0 run before Dess netted a baseline drive and Ward, assisted by Jenna Budd, collected her sixth point, leaving her just one shy of the magic number. When that moment came, with 1:48 left until the halftime break, following a steal by her and a nice move underneath that was greeted by delighted shouts, Ward — and not the 30-14 deficit — was all anyone was thinking about.
One wished the center court ceremony — during which she was hugged by Wood, who had brought out a bouquet of flowers, was presented with a fine action photo of herself by the athletic director, Joe Vas, and was joined by her father, Steve, and her older sister, Tiffany, as well as by all of her teammates, for more photos — would have lasted longer. But, alas, there was still one more half to play.
The next morning, Wood, while happy for Ward, insisted East Hampton ought not to have gone so gently into the previous night. “Shoreham’s not 30 points better than us. But you can’t play afraid. I could see it in their eyes before they even went out onto the court. Courtney had a great game, with 15 points and 10 rebounds, but other than her and Kaelyn, that was about it. We’re going to watch the entire film of that ugly game at practice today. They say you learn from your losses, and we’ve got some learning to do.”
“What we need, first, is right here,” the coach said, putting his hand on his heart. “We need heart. Shoreham’s girls have it — they play with heart. We just gave up. Second, we’ve got to listen. It wasn’t as if they were doing anything complicated. They set picks to free up shooters in the corners, and if that didn’t work, the corner girl would do a V cut into the lane. They kept doing the same thing over and over. Louis [O’Neal, Wood’s assistant, who oversaw the team during the Christmas vacation while Wood was visiting his wife and children in Spain] would keep yelling, ‘Get on top!’ Get on top of the pick — it’s just a half-step you’ve got to take so the girl who’s trying to set it can’t pick you off.”
“We tell them about it, and they seem to understand — we scrimmaged well with Southampton over the break, and Southampton could beat Shoreham any day — but. . . . We say to them in the huddles, ‘Do A or B, but don’t do C, and they’ll come out and do C, two times in a row.”
“Shoreham wasn’t that great,” said Anthony Hayes, who had been listening in. “But you gotta play defense.”
“We’ll watch the whole film at practice today, and tomorrow,” said Wood, “we’ll work on correcting what we were doing wrong. Heart is number-one, listening better is number-two.”