Mount Sinai Lays Down the Law Against Whalers

It turned into a barnburner in the third quarter
Mount Sinai’s Gabby Sartori, who was to score a game-high 32 points, proved to be hard to stop. At right is Katie Kneeland, Pierson’s 1,000-point scorer. Craig Macnaughton

Fans of Pierson High’s girls basketball team had to wait the better part of three quarters to become fired up at the county small schools championship game Friday at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station.

Faced with a full-court zone press, the Whalers, riding a 19-game winning streak, had blown hot and cold in the early going — 11 first-half steals having helped to account for Mount Sinai’s 37-24 lead at the intermission. 

But all things considered, Pierson’s coach, Kevin Barron, who had following practice the day before said his team would have to control the game throughout if it were to hope to win, wasn’t all that discouraged.          

“I told them during the break to keep going, that anything could happen,” he told sportwriters after the 69-55 loss. “I told them we’d made too many turnovers, but, even so, we were only down by 14.”

After Gabby Sartori, a Mount Sinai guard who angled her way to the hoop with great success (and who was to end up with a game-high 32 points), had made a 3-point play, treating the Mustangs to a 48-31 lead midway through the third, the Whalers went on a delightful 12-0 run of their own that had their fans repeatedly thrusting their fists into the air.

A basket by Katie Kneeland, Pierson’s 1,000-point scorer, began the run. Moments later, Aziza El’s putback of a Kneeland miss made it 48-35, and, following some more to-and-fro, Kneeland, who’d gathered in a laser pass from Chastin Giles, the Whalers’ energetic junior point guard, again came up big with a reverse layup. Fouled on the play, the aspiring astronaut calmly canned the free throw, bringing the Whalers to within 10. 

Pierson, at long last, was beginning to play, and it looked as if Mount Sinai might crumble.

After a traveling call on Sartori, Celia Barranco, assisted by Giles, swished in a 3-pointer from the left corner, and, following a Mount Sinai miss, Giles came down with the rebound and streaked the length of the court to bring Pierson to within 5, at 48-43, with about a minute left in the period. 

The bad news was that before it was over, Giles, who had lifted the level of her play considerably, thus overcoming an erratic start during which she seemed out of control at times, committed her fourth foul.

The fiery guard, who was to receive raves from Mount Sinai’s coach, Jeff Koutsantanou, afterward, hit an off-the-dribble 3 to get the Whalers going in the fourth, and followed up with another rocketed pass under the basket to Kneeland, who converted for 51-48. 

It was still a 3-point game, at 54-51, with two minutes gone, Kneeland having made all three free throws after she’d been fouled beyond the arc by Sartori. Pierson’s fans were in an uproar.

And they continued to whoop it up after Sartori was called for another walk. But that was as good as it was going to get. After Pierson’s inbounds play, and with Giles finally sitting momentarily, Paige Schaefer’s pocket was picked, and, soon after, so was Sofia Mancino’s, heralding a Mount Sinai comeback that was to scuttle the Whalers’ and their fans’ dreams.

“She’s an incredible player,” Barron said of Sartori during the postgame interview, adding, of Mount Sinai, “there’s no way we’re going to see a team like that in the state tournament.”

The spate of first-half turnovers aside, Barron said he thought it was the best game his team had played in its three postseason outings. “We always play up to the competition . . . I don’t think their coach was expecting it to be a 3-point game. We ran out of steam a bit at the end. The girls did all they could. I’m proud of them.”

Barranco, one of the nine seniors, and one of the team’s leaders, said she was proud of the team too.

And now it would be on to . . . the State University at New Paltz perhaps, provided that Millbrook, the number-one-ranked C team in the state and the defending state champion, wins its first-round game, which is to be played Tuesday.

Celia Barranco, at right, was a force underneath for the Pierson Whalers in Friday’s small schools championship game, though she wished more of her 3-point attempts had gone in. Craig Macnaughton
Chastin Giles, at right, lifted her game after an erratic start Friday, but when, following her fourth foul, she had to sit momentarily, Mount Sinai began its final push. Craig Macnaughton