Long Beach enjoying breakthrough


One sign of a strong team is to find a way to win when you’re not at your best.

That was the case Jan. 15 when Long Beach kept pace with the Nassau Conference A-1 girls’ basketball frontrunners by pulling away in the fourth quarter to defeat Herricks, 42-24.

Senior Kaia Cheung, junior Jordan Prince and freshman Mary Monaghan gave the visiting Lady Marines (7-4 overall) a significant spark off the bench before head coach Kristin Ciccone reinserted some starters that keyed an 18-6 run to secure their fifth win in six conference games. Junior Gia Simbari led the offense with 11 points, senior Delilah Plunkett added seven, Cheung and junior Lainie Kassap chipped in six apiece, and Prince and freshman Kiera Bauer both had five.

“We have a deep bench and all the girls have a high basketball IQ,” Ciccone said. “We have a bunch of different threats and anyone can lead us on any given night. I’m still waiting for the game when everyone plays their best at the same time.”

Long Beach scored only three points in the second quarter but still managed to cling to an 11-8 halftime lead as both offenses struggled mightily. The teams combined for 23 points in the third quarter, with the Lady Marines outscoring the Highlanders by a 13-10 margin.

“I’m not concerned about putting anyone in,” Ciccone said. “The subs played very well and helped give us an eight-point lead. It wasn’t the best-played game but every win is important.”

The victory allowed Ciccone’s team to rebound from its only conference loss, 48-43, at Garden City on Jan. 10. Long Beach carried a one-point lead into the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold on. Kelly Brennan scored nine of her game-high 22 points in the fourth, including four clutch free throws in crunch time, to lead the Lady Trojans. Simbari (14), who leads the conference in three-pointers, and Cheung (11) scored in double digits in the setback.

“That game isn’t indicative of who we are as a team,” Ciccone said.

The outcome snapped Long Beach’s five-game win streak, including each of the first four conference matchups. It finished 4-8 in Conference AA-2 last season and 1-11 against conference rivals in 2017-18.

“The group we have now has played together for a long time,” Ciccone said. “They’re really determined to have a great season. Their goal isn’t just to make playoffs, they want to put a conference championship banner on the wall. We haven’t done that since 2008. And the only other time was 1986.”

Knocking off MacArthur (37-33 behind Cheung’s 14 points) and Mepham (42-37 behind Kassap’s 22) in December provided the Lady Marines with a huge confidence boost, Ciccone noted. “We went through some growing pains early,” she said. “It was the first time in at least five years we beat Mepham, so that was big.”

Balanced scoring and in-your-face defense have been keys to success, Ciccone said.

The second half of the A-1 schedule tips off this Saturday when Long Beach visits Mepham for a noon start.