It took about four months, but the East Rockaway girls finally played what basketball enthusiasts would call a complete game. And they picked precisely the right time to do it.
Juliet McCarthy scored a team-high 15 points and Brooke DeGiulio added 10 to lead the Lady Rocks to a thrilling 48-42 victory over Mercy in the Long Island championship game played at Half Hollow Hills West High School on March 6.
Rachel Graves scored nine points, including a clutch, conventional three-point play that gave East Rockaway its biggest lead of the night at 44-37 with 4:14 to play in the game. It’s the 10th Long Island title in program history. No team on Long Island has won more. Emily Chelius added eight rebounds.
The Lady Rocks’ season came to an end last Saturday when they fell 61-41 to Millbrook (Dutchess County) in the Southeast Region final at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh.
In the win over Mercy, McCarthy, who is best known for her sharpshooting ability, made two huge plays on the defensive end. She drew a charge on Melina Santacroce in the opening half and later had an emphatic rejection of a shot by Mary Grace Hartmann. Santacroce, who picked up her fourth foul midway through the third quarter, led Mercy with 24 points and 17 rebounds.
“All season long, the coaches said that defense wins championships,” McCarthy said. “We worked on drawing charges, because we knew that Santacroce likes to go hard to the basket. Playing good defense was important in this game.”
The Lady Rocks held a 38-37 lead with 7:45 to play in the game when they went on a 6-0 run that amped up the team and its fans.
After a free throw by Hunter Vertuccio and a clutch 17-foot jumper by Rachel O’Hagan, Graves used a DeGiulio screen to drive the baseline to the left of the basket. She dribbled under the backboard, did a 180, and the left-handed guard banked home a layup while being fouled.
“I tried the same move in the first half and I missed,” Graves said. “I was debating whether I should try it again, but when I saw things open up, I just went for it. I put a little extra on it this time.”
Despite the seven-point deficit, Mercy wouldn’t go away. A long three by freshman Gianna Santacroce, a short jumper by Melina Santacroce (24 points, 17 rebounds), and six consecutive misses from the free throw line by East Rockaway, enabled the Monarchs to cut the lead to 44-42.
After a free throw by Graves increased the lead to three with 17.9 seconds to play, Mercy turned the ball over before it could attempt a shot. McCarthy hit two from the line to put the game away.
“Our goal was to get past where we were last season and we did it,” East Rockaway head coach Karin Leary said. “Rachel’s three-point play was the turning point. It fired everyone up. I think it hit us at that point that we weren’t going to lose.”