With Belle Smith up top and Layla Mendoza down low, it’s hard to stop a girls basketball team like Westhampton Beach’s.
The pair combined for 48 points in the No. 1 Hurricanes’ 64-53 Class A quarterfinal win over Shoreham-Wading River February 13. Westhampton Beach moves on to host No. 5 Hauppauge (14-7) Friday, February 21, at noon.
“We expected big things for ourselves,” Smith said. “To have this first game under our belts is nice.”
But the No. 8 Wildcats gave the Hurricanes a run for their money, closing the gap through the second and third quarters. Smith, who also had five rebounds, five steals, and two assists, said she wasn’t going to let anything rattle her team. Even as Shoreham-Wading River was applying the pressure, and forcing turnovers, her Hurricanes (19-2 overall, 15-1 in League VI) kept their heads in the game.
“We played a lot of teams this season that play a high-pressure defense, and they’re one of them. We played them twice, so we expected it, but they’re also good at it,” Smith said. “We kept saying, ‘Be smart, stay composed,’ and that’s what we did.”
The senior hit her first of three beyond-the-arc shots, and followed it up with a steal for a layup to put Westhampton out front 13-3 early, but the Wildcats (12-9, 10-6) went on an 8-0 run to close the gap, 15-13.
“We fell out of our rhythm,” head coach Katie Peters said. “We came out firing on all cylinders, and then we let up a little bit. It had all to do with Shoreham’s defense, their aggressiveness. They moved to every ball and they moved quickly. They’re a very talented, athletic team.”
Thankfully for the Hurricanes, Smith’s long field goal and Mendoza’s breakaway for a bucket put the team back out front 22-15 to end the quarter.
“I liked our attitude,” Mendoza said. “We didn’t get down on ourselves if we missed a shot. We kept going.”
Olivia Rongo (five points, seven rebounds, two steals) and Molly Skorobohaty (five points, three rebounds, two steals) each swished three-pointers in the third, Mendoza grabbed an inbounds pass and scored, and Smith converted a turnover for points twice and made two free-throws to put Westhampton up 46-30 with 2:17 left in the quarter.
“They played together as a unit,” Peters said. “It really is a hard dynamic to beat. Someone always steps in and has their back and picks it up when we need it.”
Mendoza, who also grabbed seven rebounds and three steals, leapt up to make a big block right before Smith’s free-throws that lead to the 16-point lead, and the senior racked up 12 points in the final stanza to put the game out of reach.
“I felt great,” Mendoza said. “I had a lot of adrenaline.”
Smith said she and her teammate’s positions balance out the court. The pair worked together for two baskets, one which drew a foul in the fourth quarter.
“It’s nice to be able to throw the ball to her. She’s a big target. As soon as she gets it, you just have all faith in her,” Smith said. “She’s fun to watch. She can jump higher than anyone I’ve ever seen. When she gets it, you know she’s going to make big plays.”
And the team did it despite running into foul trouble, remaining gritty down the stretch.
Smith said she told the girls in the locker room prior to the game that through competing in over 15 varsity seasons between volleyball, basketball, and lacrosse, she hasn’t been on one team she likes more than the one she’s on now.
“I told them I don’t want this season to end,” Smith said. “This team has such a great bond off the court and I think that’s why we excel on. We weren’t going to let ourselves lose today.”