The Kingston High School girls’ varsity basketball team didn’t mind seeing January come to an end. The team was winless during the first month of the year, and head coach Steve Garner said the Tigers have to treat the rest of their regular season schedule like the playoffs.
“We’re in a bit of a slide right now,” Garner said on Tuesday. “We were 0-for-January, and we started [the season] off 5-3, fairly good. For me it all boils down to this Friday and next week. We play four games, all league, all winnable. We win three-out-of-four, we’re in the playoffs. We don’t, we’re not in.”
Kingston’s regular season actually has seven games to play, but with the next four against Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association Division I league opponents, punching their ticket to the postseason will have to come sooner rather than later. The run begins on Friday, Feb. 3 when the Tigers travel to Pine Bush, a team which includes towering senior center Katherine Cain. The team handled Cain in their first matchup, at Kate Walton Field House on Wednesday, January 11, but the Tigers still lost 48-43. Garner said the result spoke to the team’s struggles all season long.
“We’re so inconsistent,” Garner said. “We play a defensive game and do a nice job, we can’t score. We had two of those games back to back and held Pine Bush’s 6-foot-5 girl who averages 25 points a game to 12. But we couldn’t score, so we lost. Then we go to Middletown and put up 18 points in the first quarter, but we couldn’t stop anybody. Right now there’s just not a whole lot of consistency.”
Kingston lost that road game against Middletown 68-44 on Friday, Jan. 13, and they haven’t won since. Their most recent outing, which dropped them to 5-8 overall, was a 67-49 home defeat against non-league opponent Bethlehem on Saturday, Jan. 28. It was a rough outing for the Tigers, who lost Jaid Harrell to injury midway through the first quarter when she hit her head on the floor. Kingston was down by just two points, but losing Harrell appeared to upend any momentum they’d already built. By halftime the Tigers trailed 37-22, had committed 13 turnovers and hit just eight field goals.
“Injuries are part of the game, but Jaid would have been a big factor in that game, and she got off to a good start,” Garner said, adding that Harrell was likely to return to action soon. “It was precaution, and she’ll be back. She’s going through the protocol for concussions now and we didn’t want to take any chances. She did get hit.”
A trio of Eagles led a balanced attack by Kingston’s opponent, with Molly Kirby (15 points), Emily Wander (15 points) and Julie Okoniewski (14 points) all pitching in.
Kingston was behind just 19-16 in the first quarter after a three-point shot each from Nicole Spinelli and Chloe Chaffin, but it was as close as they’d get.
Chaffin led the Tigers with an impressive 19-point, 11-rebound, seven-assist, two-steal performance, with Grace Regan (nine points, six rebounds) and Spinelli (eight points) also contributing. But it wasn’t nearly enough on a night when too many things went wrong for the home team.
“My most consistent player has been Chloe,” Garner said. “It’s just trying to develop some consistency around her.”
Of the four games on which Kingston’s playoff hopes are precariously balanced, two are against rival Newburgh Free Academy. The Goldbacks come to the Kate Walton Field House on Monday, Feb. 6, and the Tigers head out of town for a rematch three days later. In between the Newburgh games is a visit from Middletown on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
After this stretch, the Tigers have three more games, only one of which — a visit from Monroe-Woodbury on Monday, Feb. 13 — is at home. By then they’ll know whether they’re playing for playoff position or in the hopes of making February a bit brighter than January. But first, the four decisive battles.
“I’m treating each of these games as much as I can like the playoffs,” Garner said. “We’re individualizing each game more than I ordinarily would for a regular season game. I’ve got a game plan for Newburgh next week, and we haven’t even seen Newburgh yet. It’s really one game at a time. This is now crunch time.”