They don’t call her Layla “Mad-Hops” Mendoza for nothing.
In a 61-51 win over Elwood-John Glenn January 13, the Westhampton Beach senior was jumping all over the court, racking up 20 points and going 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in her Hurricanes’ seventh straight win.
“It feels good to be back — I’m getting stronger,” said Mendoza, who missed the second half of last season because of a torn ACL. “We had a lot of good passes, a lot of fast breaks and rebounds.”
The senior secured five rebounds and three steals, but in total the Hurricanes (10-2 overall and 8-1in League VI) grabbed 32 rebounds and forced 14 turnovers. Classmate Belle Smith, who scored her 1500th point in the win, finished with a double-double off 17 points and 10 rebounds, stole the ball three times, and had three assists. Head coach Katie Peters said when the two of them are on, they’re unstoppable.
“Layla and Belle have a nice little thing at times,” she said. “They look for each other, know how to feed each other, have learned to play off each other. It will help us through the tail end of our season here.”
“It’s nice having someone big under the basket,” Smith added. “We call her Mad-Hops Mendoza because you know if you throw the ball up to her she’s going to make something happen.”
But things didn’t start off so smooth for Westhampton.
After Mendoza sank her first two free throws to tie the game at 2-all, the Knights (9-5, 7-3) went on a 12-0 tare before Molly McCarthy (7 points, 6 rebounds, 5 steals, and 3 assists) swished a three-pointer to stop the bleeding. Mendoza added a three-point play with 2:06 to go in the quarter and assisted Smith on a layup after a steal to make it 18-11, but the Hurricanes remained down 21-15 at the end of the quarter.
“Our coaches motivated us,” Mendoza said during the break between stanzas. “We needed to get in sync. It was a little bit of a rocky start, but we ended the game strong.”
Smith scored on a breakaway off her own steal to open the second and hit her career milestone, and with that layup and another at 3:34 wound up starting and finishing a nine-point scoring streak that gave her team the lead for the first time, 24-23.
Junior Caroline Henke (8 points, 5 rebounds) knocked down a long field goal, and sophomore Olivia Rongo (6 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 assists) also lit up the scoreboard during the spurt. The Hurricanes ended the second on an 8-0 run, highlighted by a Smith layup off a behind-the-back pass from McCarthy who was racing toward the hoop, and capped the third on a 6-0 run for a 10-point lead. With 4:48 remaining, Mendoza’s bucket off a send-in from he left side of the court put the Hurricanes up by their largest margin, 54-41, and she did it again on a three-point play with three minutes remaining to bring the score to 57-44.
“Watching my teammates is exciting — Layla grabbing the offensive rebounds, Molly McCarthy hitting threes, Caroline Henke and Olivia Rongo getting insane steals up the court. Everyone has a role and we play them really well,” Smith said. “We’re always looking to find our rhythm, play high-speed basketball, and have fun with our connections. The team is so close this year.”
The girls switched up the defense following the first to try to block primary scorers Madison Mullmanand and Samantha Groark from getting the ball. Mullman still managed a game-high 24, and Groark was limited to seven.
“They came out hot in the first quarter,” Peters said. “Our girls have a really nice off-court chemistry that transitions onto the court. We weren’t in positions we should have been, and it took us a little while to get into the game, but they’ve had a ‘we over me’ mindset all season and they really live it every game. I’m proud of them for that. They all want what’s best for the team and the best shot. This has been a fun group to watch and be a part of,” she said.