By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr.
The last time the Long Branch High School girls basketball team won a Shore Conference Divisional title was in 1986. Tuesday night, the Green Wave hosted the Hornets of Holmdel and the winner would claim the A-Central public school title.
Ten years ago Shannon Coyle was named head coach of the program, one that had struggled for decades. In her time at the helm, she has completely changed the attitude of the players and the perception of the program. She admits the first few years were difficult, but the program is now developing a slew of skilled players and not depending on one or two.
Long Branch started the game red hot. They were making shots, driving hard to the hoop and pounding the boards. At the end of the first period they were leading 11-6 over the Hornets. However, In the second quarter things started to unwind.
It’s always easy to blame someone else when things start to unravel, and in sports finger pointing is usually directed towards the officials. Well, as a neutral observer, the officials were allowing the Hornets to play more physically than the Green Wave girls.
Long Branch was up 13 on the Holmdel midway through the second quarter when officials started banging Green Wave players with fouls. “Calls seemed to not only not go our way, but put two starters on the bench,” said Coyle. The coach added that her bench players are young and inexperienced, and that hurt.
Early in the third quarter another of the starters picked up two fouls giving her four. Coyle had to bench her for the rest of the quarter. “The girls who came in off the bench were fighting hard and playing hard, but we just couldn’t catch a break,” said Coyle.
During the fourth quarter Holmdel took command of mistakes that the Green Wave had made. “Frustrations started to come into play as we didn’t get fouls called in our favor and continued to put starters on the bench. These starters play a lot of minutes and I did just start to see frustration from them,” said Coyle.
When the final buzzer sounded, Holmdel had taken the 62-47 victory and public division title. “The girls fought and played a really tough game against a tough team. I know my team really wanted this win. I know they will learn from this, as they are determined to have a successful season,” Coyle said. With the loss the Green Wave have a 11-6 overall record and 10-6 in the A-Central. “We talked about how this was just for the division and there are bigger goals to make statements in the Shore Conference Tournament and the NJSIAA states.
Leading the Wave in scoring was Kimi Sayson with 16 points, and she was one of the main players in foul trouble that missed a lot of action. Leomary Diaz-Merino ended with 11 points while teammates Mya Hepburn scored eight as did Leilani Andrews.
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