Melodee Riley knows all about taking big steps. The Riverhead senior forward is going to UConn on a track scholarship for the triple jump, but in the meantime, she's taking huge strides in the basketball postseason.
After averaging 13 points in the regular season, she came into Friday night's game averaging 19 points in the playoffs and was the Suffolk MVP for the county tournament.
Riley stepped up again, scoring eight of her 18 points in the fourth quarter and adding 17 rebounds in Riverhead's 56-50 win over Baldwin in the Long Island Class AA/Southeast Regional final at Farmingdale State.
"I just play my game," Riley said. "It's nothing special."
Riverhead (23-1) advanced to the state semifinals for the first time and will play the winner of Penfield-Lockport at 6:15 p.m. Friday at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
Alex Hampton, who had 10 of her 20 points in the fourth quarter for Baldwin (19-2), scored on two drives and then capped her own 7-0 run with a three-point play with 1:52 left to give Baldwin a 48-46 lead. Riley scored on a putback with 1:40 left to tie it at 48.
Kaila-Riane Nazario hit two free throws with 1:22 left to give Riverhead a 50-48 lead and hit two more with 57 seconds left to make it 52-48.
Hampton scored with 42 seconds left to pull Baldwin within 52-50 and Riley grabbed a key offensive rebound with 29 seconds left. Shanice Allen (11 points) then hit a free throw to make it 53-50 with 27 seconds to play and Baldwin turned it over with 21 seconds left. Jalyn Brown hit two free throws with 18 seconds left to make it 55-50.
Riley had given Riverhead a 41-40 lead on a runner with 6:43 left in the game. After hitting two free throws, she leaped high to deflect a pass near midcourt and used her track speed to take it in for a fast-break layup with 5:41 left, extending the lead to 45-40.
Riverhead entered the game averaging 64.2 points in five postseason games but scored just 20 points in the first half. Ayanna Hudson scored seven points in the third quarter for Baldwin, but Marta Czaplak hit two three-pointers and Allen also had six points. She scored on an acrobatic baseline drive with six seconds left to give Riverhead a 39-37 lead.
"Melodee stepped up tremendously in the playoffs," Brown said. "If I drive, I look for her. She's always there for the rebounds."