Whalers Found No Balm in New Paltz
New Paltz, the site of Saturday’s state regional Class C girls basketball game, was founded in 1678 by Huguenots, French Protestants fleeing mistreatment in their native land.
Good taste requires that the analogy end there, but unarguably the Pierson Whalers were in fact handled roughly there that day by the Millbrook Blazers, the top-rated Class C team in the state and the classification’s defending state champion.
The Sag Harborites, led by their mercurial junior point guard, Chastin Giles, and poised slim senior scoring leader, Katie Kneeland, had cruised through the league season undefeated, at 16-0, and had almost upset Mount Sinai recently in the county B-C-D game.
But Saturday’s lopsided 55-26 outcome was prefigured pretty much from the start as the Whalers, forced largely by Millbrook’s 2-3 zone to shoot from the outside, couldn’t buy a basket.
By the time Kneeland hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with 1 minute and 11 seconds left in the first period, the Whalers had collectively shot 0-for-9 (0-for-6 from 3-point range). Not that Millbrook, which took a 13-3 lead into the second period, had been all that much better.
The defending champs extended their lead in the second frame as the Whalers continued to come up empty, aside from a 3-pointer by Giles at the beginning of the period and a foul shot by her midway through. Meanwhile, Erin Fox, a tall junior Millbrook forward with good inside moves who reportedly has verbally committed to Division-1 Marist, was increasingly having her way, putting up shots over Kneeland and Celia Barranco as the Blazers’ guards, Sam McKenna and Madison Harkenrider, were chipping in with 3s.
“They’re just too nervous,” one Pierson parent was overheard saying to a fellow Harbor rooter during the halftime break.
Neither Kevin Barron, Pierson’s coach, nor his players were about to give up, however. Down 27-7, they had faced a similar deficit in the Mount Sinai game and had come roaring back in the third quarter.
And, in the opening moments of Saturday’s third period, it looked as if they might do just that. Barranco, fouled as she fought for a rebound, made both free throws, keying a 6-0 spurt that prompted Millbrook, whose lead had been cut to 15 with 4:22 to go in the frame, to call for a timeout.
When play resumed, a couple of foul calls that Barron questioned and three straight fast-break baskets following turnovers, by Fox (two) and Claire Martell, a tall fellow forward, put the game out of reach.
Fox was to lead all scorers with 28 points. Barranco led Pierson with 10; Kneeland had 9.
“Still,” Barron was to say during a telephone conversation the next day, “the girls didn’t give up. . . . It was a tough one, but they kept their heads up.”
In the locker room afterward, he had said to the half-dozen underclassmen that they now had a goal, to get back to this game next year and to win it. When addressing the nine seniors, he said, he choked up, something that he doesn’t often do. They had been exceptional, he said, on the court and off it. Eminently coachable, they had taken to the game and to each other — a rare team. And, over all, the trip upstate, which included an overnight hotel stay in Poughkeepsie and a dinner in New Paltz after the game, had been fun. Millbrook, he thought, would go on to win a second straight state title, “easily.”
Turning to the big picture, Barron said all of the seniors were college-bound. Paige Schaefer, one of the Whaler guards, was going to Lehigh, where she will play field hockey. Katie Kneeland, aiming to major in engineering, was leaning toward the University of Maryland.
About to take a “sabbatical from coaching” after seven years, so that he can help more in the rearing of his two small children, Barron, who lives in Center Moriches and who will continue to teach biology at the high school, said he’d told his players that the undefeated league season and the playoff ride — not to mention the fact that the team had wound up among the state’s top eight in Class C — had been a great note to go out on.