Wantagh rose to the occasion without its leading scorer in a first-round playoff win against North Shore.
With Julia Wilkinson sidelined after rolling her ankle in practice, the third-seeded Lady Warriors responded with a balanced scoring effort in a 53-45 victory last Friday evening before their home fans at Wantagh High School. The short-handed effort propelled Wantagh (15-5) to its third win against North Shore this season and a berth into the Nassau County Class A girls’ basketball quarterfinals which longtime head coach Stan Bujacich hopes Wilkinson along with her 16 points per game can be back on the court.
“We had a couple kids take on different roles in Julia’s absence,” Bujacich said. “I give our players credit because they really stepped up.”
Junior forward Morgan Flaherty moved over to the wing in place of Wilkinson and led Wantagh offensively with 18 points. The versatile Flaherty, who two years ago was point guard for the Wantagh Middle School team, also had presence in the paint with 15 rebounds.
“She has had a good rhythm going of late,” said Bujacich of Flaherty, who tallied 14 points in Wantagh’s 62-35 win against North Shore in the regular season finale on Feb. 6. “She is like a hybrid player.”
Senior guard Caitlin Albanese, Wantagh’s second-leading scorer, was limited to seven points, but she dished out five assists and pulled down six rebounds. Megan Lucey led the backcourt scoring punch with 11 points while junior forward Jenna Kaufmann, who started at Wikinson’s spot inside, responded with seven points and 10 rebounds. Junior center Irene Huguet, an exchange student from Spain, also was a factor near the basket with seven points.
Wantagh was fueled for a season sweep of the Lady Vikings by a 12-0 first half run and a 16-4 spurt between the second and third quarters. After extending the lead to 44-29 in the fourth quarter, the Lady Warriors survived a late North Shore spurt with four late free throws from Albanese. Bujacich said the defensive effort that held North Shore off the scoreboard for two long stretches proved crucial.
“Defensively for most of the game we did a good job taking away their perimeter game,” Bujacich said. “We took away what they like to do.”
North Shore (13-7) was led by 17 points from junior guard Jennifer Walton, who cut Wantagh’s lead to 49-44 on a three-pointer with 35 seconds left. Gabriella Scott and Morgan Griffin also kept the 14th-seeded Lady Vikings within striking distance with 11 and eight points, respectively. The trio also led the charge in a 58-28 Class A outbracket game win against Clarke to set up the Wantagh matchup.
“They are very resilient and work so hard,” North Shore head coach Keith Freund said. “They are young, they are scrappy and didn’t have a ton of offensive firepower, but grinded out games and really found ways to stick with it.”
Wantagh will host No. 11 Jericho in the quarterfinals Wednesday, after presstime, with a 1 p.m. tipoff. A win would advance the Lady Warriors into the county semifinals on Feb. 28 at Farmingdale State.