There were flowers all around for the seven seniors and hugs and touching tributes before the girls basketball game began at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor Monday evening.
But when Kasey Gilbride, one of those seniors, hurled a Southold opponent to the floor in fighting for possession of the opening tip-off, one knew that Kevin Barron’s Whalers, who were looking to nail the lid down on the school’s first league championship since 1992, had come to play.
Southold had been the only league team to defeat Pierson this season, but on this night Barron’s crew, which played hard and well throughout the fray, never let the Settlers, who were to be interred by a score of 54-38, come up for air.
Barron said during the celebrating afterward that he never was satisfied with his charges’ double-digit leads, knowing that at any moment Joe Reed’s players, who were no less aggressive than Pierson’s, could turn it around.
The win improved the League VIII champions to 9-1 in league play. They were to have played a nonleague makeup with East Hampton, a Class A school, Tuesday, and are to play another nonleaguer Monday, at Wyandanch (Class B). The county tourney is to begin Feb. 14.
As aforesaid, Monday’s league season finale was a battle royal from the get-go, with players continually driving through traffic to the hoop. There were no 3-pointers by either team, though, goodness knows, Southold tried — its players attempting 23 by one count — coming up empty every time.
The battle under the boards was well contested, though Pierson, with Erica Selyukova, a tall, broad-shouldered sophomore, Gilbride, and her fellow senior Bridget Canavan, largely led the way.
A half-dozen Whalers were in the scoring column come halftime, at which point they led 25-13. They were to up that lead to as many as 20 points in the third quarter before the visitors pared it a bit, to 15 going into the mano-a-mano fourth.
Reed celebrated when, as the fourth began, Pierson was unable to inbound the ball within five seconds, thus turning it over, but the Settlers, typically, couldn’t capitalize. Two baskets by Cindy van Bourgondien and one by Abi Sheridan pulled the North Fork team to within 10 with about five minutes left to play, but the Whalers were not about to let the game slip away, outscoring Southold 16-10 going down the stretch, a span during which the Whalers shot 12-for-17 from the foul line and the Settlers shot 3-for-13 from the field.
Canavan finished with a game-high 16 points. Gilbride, who also played tenaciously on defense and made some nice assists — one in particular over the heads of everyone to Isabel Peters at the end of the third period — wound up with 10. May Evjen and Eilis Sheil each had 7, and Peters had 6. Van Bourgondien and Sheridan each had 8 for Southold.
Inasmuch as it was Senior Night, Barron put an all-senior team on the floor to start — as did Reed — but after the first three minutes the coaches went to their regular starters, which, in Pierson’s case, included Selyukova.
“I never felt comfortable,” said Barron in the aftermath. “Joe always gets his team up to play us. . . . Our motto is ‘All In,’ and that’s the way these girls played tonight, from the start, and that’s how we’ll ride into the playoffs. . . . The banner up on the wall says the last time Pierson won a league championship in girls basketball was in 1992.”
Sean Crowley, a veteran Pierson coach and teacher, surmised that that team was coached by Gary Hull, and he was right. Pierson was combined then with Shelter Island — it’s combined with Bridgehampton now — and a Shelter Islander, Sheri Surozenski, a sophomore at the time, figured prominently in that team’s success.
This time around, the Whalers’ big guns are seniors, and apparently they’re ready to make some noise in the postseason.