GLENS FALLS, NY- The four teams remaining in Class AA in New York State all came together for the Federation Tournament Semifinals on Friday, with each holding hopes of moving on to Saturday's Championship Game.
With so much on the line there was a good amount of pressure for all of the teams taking the court on Friday afternoon, and each brought out a top-level performance as they left it all on the floor knowing exactly what was on the line.
It was cold in the Glens Falls Civic Center but the action on the floor was hot, and with the games now official behind us, let's recap the action to see who will be playing for a title on Saturday.
South Shore Stuns Long Island Lutheran, 58-53
Not many may have given them a chance coming in but the belief in the Lady Vikings of South Shore was great. They have become a perennial power in the PSAL, and while they had not gotten a win in the Federation Tournament before Friday, they came in with all the confidence in the world to get the job done.
After falling behind early on by as many as 12, South Shore got back into their bread and butter zone defense and found a comfortability that put them on their way. They took a lead for the first time midway through the 3rd quarter and never looked back hitting clutch FT's down the stretch to take a hard fought 58-53 victory.
It didn't look great for South Shore at the start as they fell behind 16-4 early on in the second quarter to a Long Island Lutheran team that was taking advantage of the man defense that the Lady Vikings were playing, so after calling a timeout with 7:08 to go in the half, South Shore head coach Anwar Gladden went back to playing a game he knew his kids could thrive on.
"Early on we felt there were some loose balls that we should've gotten and then we decided to go back to our bread and butter zone defense," Gladden stated. "We tried some rinky dink stuff and it wasn't really working so I knew we could be good in the zone."
The zone certainly did work as it made Long Island Lutheran shoot from behind the arc instead of getting into driving lanes, and they struggled from behind the arc, and with Earlette Scott '18 able to get out off misses and push in the open court, South Shore was back in the game at the half down just 26-21.
Still behind, South Shore was in a much better position than they were when they couldn't get good looks early on and Gladden credited that to not just the defense, but to an added aggressiveness in their offensive sets.
"We felt we could get to the basket and put pressure on them," Gladden explained. "In the first quarter, we felt the fouls were a little lopsided in their favor and we tried to change that momentum by just being more aggressive."
Driving to the basket with Scott and Destiny Philoxy '18 both being able to get past their defenders in LuHi's man to man defense allowed them to come on strong early in the 3rd quarter, and when Philoxy scored off a steal that she read perfectly with 4:18 left in the quarter, South Shore had their first lead of the game at 32-30.
They were doing a better job on the glass with Destiny's older sister, and Seton Hall bound forward, Selena Philoxy '17 getting in good positions to finish down low on putbacks, and the lead started growing on the back of a 12-0 run for the Lady Vikings, going up by as many as 10 at the start of the 4th quarter.
With the likes of Amani Free '18 coming alive with runners and floaters in the lane, and with Grace Stone '18 stepping up and hitting big shots once the deficit for LuHi hit double figures, you knew they weren't going to go away, but it was going to boil down to FT's as if they wanted to get their first Federation Tournament win, South Shore would need to hit FT's, and Scott was the one to step up to the plate and rise to the ultimate challenge.
Going 16-18 from the FT line on the day, and 7-8 from the line in the 4th quarter, Scott was clutch when the Lady Vikings needed her most, something that was no surprise at all to Gladden who is used to seeing this from one of his big stars.
"You wrote a phenomenal article about Earlette at the end of the summer about her being a winner and knowing how to win," Gladden said referring to an NYCHoops.net article on Scott. "Earlette has been winning since her freshman year and while she isn't the most athletic kid, her heart is bigger than anyone’s."
Having gotten the deficit to within 2 in the closing seconds, it was Scott would put the game away from the charity stripe in the end, putting together an incredible effort to come together and stun Long Island Lutheran for a berth in Saturday's Federation Tournament Championship Game, 58-53.
Scott would finish with a game high 28 points in the win, with Philoxy adding 11 points in the win.
For Long Island Lutheran in the loss it was Stone who had 14 points, with Free and Celeste Taylor '19 adding 13 and 12 points respectively in a game that ends the Crusaders season in heartbreaking fashion.
South Shore will now advance to Saturday's title game with a chance to win the school's first ever NYS Federation Tournament championship. It's been a goal of theirs since the Lady Vikings hit the court to start their season and until they achieve their goal there is no celebrating for Scott knowing that while this win was nice, there is hopefully a bigger and better one still to come.
"Ever since the start of the season this was the goal. We wanted a state title so we can't celebrate yet because we still got one more to go."
The Mary Louis Academy takes out Baldwin, 59-49
It was a contrast of styles in the opening Class AA Girls Semifinal between TMLA and Baldwin as the Hilltoppers wanted to try and work the game more in the halfcourt and feed the ball inside to Notre Dame bound forward Danielle Patterson '17, while the Lady Bruins were wanting to make it fast and run as much as possible.
That is what made the matchup so compelling, and even though Baldwin was able to play to their style and get the game pushed up and down early, Mary Louis was able to get the game played their tempo from the second quarter on, rolling past the Lady Bruins in the second half for a 59-49 victory.
Having played once before this season, The Mary Louis Academy knew what they were in for early on in this one. They knew the quickness of Baldwin's guards and Hilltoppers head coach JoAnn Arbitello-Pinnock understood the key to success was not letting them get out in the open floor.
"We played a triangle and two," Arbitello-Pinnock said. "Those two guards are very good players and they keep going so we just need to slow them down."
In a freezing cold gym in Glens Falls, the start was a start that Baldwin had to love as Aziah Hudson '18 and Jenna Annecchiarico '18 were able to push the pace and get the Lady Bruins out to a quick lead. Add to that the fact that Hudson and Montia Moon '17 were hitting from long range when the opportunities presented themselves, and Baldwin was able to take a. 17-12 lead.
Baldwin was hit hard when their only true interior presence Sarah Pulis '17 picked up her second foul in the first quarter, and when she went to the bench it seemed as if the ability for Mary Louis to get the ball down low, and dominate the glass became more prevalent. The cold wore off of the TMLA players, and once they got warm and ready to go, they all as a team began to take off.
Jordan Nixon '18 was able to drive into the lane and score while getting fouled, and then on drive and kicks from Patterson the three ball from Kania Pollock '18 became a weapon as the entire offense was clicking, while Baldwin was stuck trying to score in the halfcourt, something that became impossible for nearly the entire second quarter as TMLA went on a 17-0 run, holding the Lady Bruins scoreless until 1:06 left in the stanza.
Luckily for Baldwin, they were able to score the last 5 of the half to get back within single digits to trail the Hilltoppers 29-22 at the break.
It was exactly the game plan that Arbitello-Pinnock wanted as she knew that allowing Baldwin to get out in transition would be a detriment to what the Hilltoppers wanted to do. They were able to control the boards 24 to 4 in the first half, and those two things combined really made the Mary Louis leader happy at the half.
"One of our big issues the entire season has been rebounding the basketball and we are such an athletic team I never thought we got enough rebounds," Arbitello-Pinnock stated. "We spend the last few weeks just saying that is a big thing for us, and if we can get the ball and get it up the court we are going to be fine."
The rebounding continued to be a problem into the 3rd for Baldwin and pushed Mary Louis as Patterson was able to score on back to back possessions on putbacks of teammates misses and the lead went to 45-32 with 1:55 left in the quarter when Pollock buried her third trey of the game.
Every time it seemed as if Baldwin was about to make a dent into the TMLA lead, they were there for a big shot as Patterson scored on a runner in the lane after a steal and bucket by Annecchiarico gave the Lady Bruins some hope, pushing the Hilltopper lead to 49-35 going into the 4th.
Credit has to go to everything The Mary Louis Academy did as they were able to deny opportunities for the Baldwin guards to get into driving lanes, and when they did get into the paint they were met right away with double teams making it difficult for them to finish. Hudson was able to slither her way in from time to time, but for the most part it was TMLA's defensive abilities that led to big offensive plays enabling them to keep control in the 4th quarter and pull away for a 59-49 win.
With Patterson scoring 18 points for lead TMLA, and Pollock adding 16 for the Hilltoppers, it was a true balanced effort as they led four Mary Louis players in double figures, but the 41-12 rebounding edge that TMLA had on Baldwin may have been the biggest key to the win, something Pollock said she knew was going to be big coming in.
"Boxing out was the key and we knew we were going to get rebounds if we were going to win," Pollock said.
After winning a NYSPHSAA Class AA Championship last weekend this was a tough way to finish the year for Baldwin head coach Tom Catapano and his team. Hudson had a game high 23 points to lead the Lady Bruins, who will bring back a solid core and should once again be a force throughout New York State next season.
The Mary Louis Academy though will be the team moving on to play in Saturday night's NYS Federation Championship Game against fellow New York City power South Shore, and while they may be new to this scene just getting their first CHSAA Class AA title this season, Arbitello-Pinnock feels that in a way is what makes this even more memorable for them.
"We are all new to this and I think it's real special, but I also think sometimes not knowing. When you haven't been up here we came out a little nervous I think because we haven't been here before, but I think that's what makes it so special," Arbitello-Pinnock explained with a smile.
One win in Glens Falls down, and one win hopefully to go to achieve a season to remember for a truly special group of Hilltoppers.