Belle Smith didn’t see it coming.
The Westhampton Beach senior thought it was just a timeout, until she was presented with balloons and a specially-marked basketball. With her second score in a 49-34 win over Class C’s Pierson, a driving layup at the 4:52 mark of the first quarter that pulled the Hurricanes within one point, 10-9, Smith secured her place in Westhampton’s record books. She outdid Bronson Martin’s 2000 record (1,708 points) to become the new all-time leading scorer.
“I had no idea this was going to happen tonight,” the senior guard said. “It’s pretty cool, exciting, but it’s really a team effort. If we didn’t reach this point in the season I wouldn’t be here.”
Smith, who surpassed 1500 points earlier this season, finished the February 29 contest at St. Joseph’s College with 20 points, including two three-pointers, the first the game-opener, five rebounds, five assists, and four steals. She now has 1,725 varsity points.
“She’s a smart athlete, she’s hardworking, she’d dedicated, she’s a leader,” the five-year senior standout’s head coach Katie Peters said. “We know what each other is thinking. I really trust her. I can lean on her. There was a lot of hard work put in over the years to get here.”
After Smith’s bucket senior forward Layla Mendoza (23 points, five rebounds, and three steals) helped continue a 13-1 run with a three-point play and a field goal. After Pierson’s Brooke Esposito swished the second of two free-throw attempts, Smith nailed both of hers, sank a putback, and tacked on another field goal to close out the first ahead 20-11. The Hurricanes (22-2) maintained that nine-point lead at halftime, 26-17.
“Once we set our tone it’s only uphill from there,” Mendoza said. “I know I am big enough to get through the defense and go up, and when I draw the foul I just have to take a step back and focus on what I have to do. I felt great today, too. Hearing everyone cheering for you feels good and makes you want to go harder.”
Peters said she also feels good with Mendoza out on the court. The senior missed the second half of last season with a torn ACL but has come back stronger than ever.
“She’s an asset,” Peters said. “You watch her grab the ball and put it back up and you’re just like, ‘Wow.’ Every time.”
But Pierson (13-8) wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Even after losing senior point guard Chastin Giles (13 points) and junior forward Gylia Dryden (four points) three minutes into the second quarter from a collision on the court that left Dryden benched the rest of the game. Giles swished two three-pointers one minute apart in the third, and sophomore guard Sofia Mancino went 4-for-6 from the free-throw line from the 4:49 to 2:09 mark in the fourth. Mancino, who stole the ball from Smith before her final two free throws, closed the gap to 41-34, but they proved to be Pierson’s last points of the game.
“We didn’t execute, but they played hard,” Pierson head coach Woody Kneeland said. “We were dropping the ball, travelling — had a lot of self-inflicted turnovers — but we do have control of those things. I think their heads got them down. I wanted them to go after it today, but we have bigger fish to fry.”
The two-time defending Class C champions face Nassau’s East Rockaway for the Long Island crown March 9 at Newfield High School at 4:30 PM. The Hurricanes, fresh off their first county title win since 2005, take on Class AA champion Northport in the overall Section XI title game March 5 at Ward Melville High School at 5 PM. Westhampton’s next game will be the regional finals March 15 at St. Joseph’s College at a time to be announced. Should Pierson win its game the team will also play in the Class C regional final the same day.
“This has given us more fire and passion,” Mendoza said. “I feel that we have the heart to win these games, but I do feel we do need to work harder.”
“I think we needed this to fuel us to do better,” she said. “We’ll play even better in the weeks to come.”