Olivia Rongo saw the ball getting passed through midcourt, but she wasn’t going to let the Hauppauge take the lead again. So the Westhampton Beach sophomore stepped in toward the transition on the right side of the court, intercepted the pass, carried the ball up to the basket and scored a layup with 3:32 left in the game to put up her No. 1 Hurricanes out front for good in a 57-53 Suffolk County Class A semifinal victory Friday. The win sends the Hurricanes (20-2) back to the finals for the second straight season.
“Olivia came through,” head coach Katie Peters said. “She plays great defense, always. She’s fast, she’s athletic. She went up for that layup and I knew it was falling.”
Westhampton Beach, which made it to the county championship game as the No. 6 seed last year, plays No. 2 West Babylon for another chance at the Class A title Tuesday, February 25, at St. Joseph’s College at 8 PM.
“We’re ready to go in and get a win,” Rongo said. “It’s good to know I helped the team in such a close, crucial moment to get us there.”
The Hurricanes found themselves down by 13 points at their worst, and a rather unlikely duo stepped up to get the job done. Sophomore Molly McCarthy (13 points, four rebounds, four steals) hit her third three-pointer of the game with 4:05 left to tie the game 47-all before Rongo sank her go-ahead shot off the steal.
“I shocked myself,” McCarthy said. “I’ve never done this before; ever. It was really nerve-racking. It was a fight, and we had to keep going.”
McCarthy, who scored back-to-back threes to help the Hurricanes close No. 5 Hauppauge’s lead to 25-18 lead midway through the second, and Rongo hit back-to-back field goals after her make which proved crucial before senior standout Layla Mendoza (18 points, three rebounds, three steals, three blocks) fouled out with 48.3 seconds remaining.
“It was amazing,” Mendoza said of McCarthy’s shot from beyond the arc. “I knew she was going to do it.”
Rongo (nine points, four rebounds, two blocks) said her classmate and she had been struggling to hit their shots as of late.
“This team is used to her hitting those threes, and this game was a comeback moment for her,” Rongo said. “She stepped up. We all just came out stronger in the end.”
Hauppauge (15-8) sank five three-pointers across the first 16 minutes, with the game’s leading scorer Maddy Torres swishing two of them. She racked up 12 of her game-high 19 points during the first half to help her Eagles to a 30-26 lead at the break, but it was Kayla Bullard’s first of two in the game that gave Hauppauge its largest lead, 25-12, with 4:53 left in the second.
“We knew it was going to be tough. We knew they were going to be aggressive,” Rongo said. “We had a target on our back the whole season and we had to push through.”
“Game in and game out there’s been moments we’ve been down and come from behind,” Peters added. “Grit and resiliency is something you have or you don’t, and these girls have it. They’re hungry.”
The Hurricanes switched from a 3-2 defense to man-to-man coverage to extend the zone and get out on those long-distance shooters. Mendoza made a block to open the third, and senior Belle Smith (17 points) scored on a jump shot before Mendoza’s field goal closed the gap to 31-20. McCarthy found Mendoza under the basket with 4:56 left in the third to tie the game at 32-all, but Westhampton came within a score eight more times before McCarthy knotted things up.
“That was a moment for Molly I was so excited to see happen,” Peters said. “Molly is a great basketball player and a key component to us winning big games.”
After Smith made both her free throws with 6:17 left on the clock, Mendoza went coast-to-coast to once again close Westhampton within one, 45-44, and Torres secured two free throws. Smith finished the quarter going 5-for-8 from the charity stripe.
She and Mendoza talked to the team at halftime about refocusing on its goal. Mendoza said although nervous down the stretch, she never doubted what her team could do.
“We pulled through, and I knew we were going to do it,” Mendoza said. “This is our year. We want to leave a legacy.”