MIDDLE VILLAGE, NY - The CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Diocese Girls Semifinal between Nazareth and Molloy had intrigue from the start as Kingsmen superstar guard Bianca Cuevas was not at Christ the King in Queens, NY, the venue for the start of Thursday's important game.
Coach Ron Kelley explained that Cuevas was out with strep throat, but Cuevas ended up appearing late in the 1st quarter in street clothes. She eventually got dressed and entered the game at the start of the 3rd quarter, but her game was off and the Stanners took advantage, because behind the 19 points of Nyasha Irizarry, Molloy pulled off the upset, taking down Nazareth, 51-45.
With Cuevas not there at the start, Nazareth still looked sharp, they were firing on all cylinders with senior forwards Yasmine Belk and Jen Fay dominating early on. Cuevas walked into the gym late in the first with her Kingsmen up 17-8, and at that point Cuevas said she was pleasantly surprised.
"I saw we were up and I was like wow I maybe I won't need to go in," Cuevas said,
She had a severe case of strep throat that caused her to be hospitalized, and the senior said that she just came to support her team knowing that they would want her there.
Molloy though understood that they needed a statement win. They had struggled for much of the season, but a late season 1 point loss to Nazareth was possibly a turning point in Lagas' eyes.
"I think that loss was the first time the girls saw the results of the hard work they have been putting in, and they saw they are improving and getting better," Lagas admitted.
Irizarry said that when the Stanners got down by 9 they made a conscious effort to pick up the intensity, and it worked, with the senior guard scoring 8 points during an 11-0 run that got Molloy right back in the game. Nazareth seemed stagnant on offense, scoring just 5 points in the 2nd quarter to see the game tied at 23 at the break.
At the half the debate was on in the Nazareth locker room as to what Cuevas would do. The senior said she felt "tired and not good" when asked how she felt, but Kelley said something much different.
"I asked her how she felt and she said she felt ok," Kelley said. "She's our best kid so I decided to run with her."
With Cuevas now in the game, the questions were how would she look out there, and would Molloy do anything differently than they had been.
Lagas said that his team didn't do much different with her in or out, but the difference was that Cuevas was clearly not herself.
She missed three wide open fast break lay ups, while struggling defensively as well, but Kelley said there was never a thought for him to take her out.
"I wanted to leave her in because a kid like that it's tough to sit down," Kelley said. "The last time against Molloy she made 11 straight points in the matter of a minute, so you never know."
Molloy though took advantage, with Irizarry able to slash inside, and sophomore forward Emily Peckham holding her own against the Nazareth forwards scoring 7 points late to really help put the Stanners over the top.
While Cuevas was not herself, Molloy fully took advantage and played well inside and out, especially when it mattered most late as the Stanners pulled the shocker to advance to the B/Q championship game on Saturday, beating Nazareth 51-45.
Irrizary led all scorers with 19 in the win for Molloy, while Peckham added 11 and 11 rebounds, and Aryn McClure chipped in 10.
Nazareth was paced by the 10 points of Belk, while Fay added 9, and Cuevas had just 4.
Kelly said the decision to play Cuevas rested on him, and while he called it a very tough decision, he said it's a decision he does not regret at all.
Molloy though deserves a lot of credit. After losing a heartbreaker to Nazareth 2 weeks ago they finally got over the top in this one, and Peckham said that the loss to them actually may have proved beneficial.
"The last game hit us hard because we were up by so much and let it get away in the last two minutes, so we really wanted this one, and we were confident we would get it," Peckham said.
It's not done over for Molloy as they have the Brooklyn/Queens title game against Christ the King up next on Saturday, and even though the a Royals handled them pretty comfortably the two times they met during the year, Irizarry says don't count the Stanners out just yet.
"I think we will challenge them and I personally think we can win because girl's basketball is unpredictable, and if we play like we did today, as a team, I think we can come out with the W."
Christ the King Takes Out Bishop Loughlin 73-64
In a game most pegged to be a blowout because of the wide margin of victories the Royals beat the Lions by this season, it turned out to be anything but.
The Royals had many defensive lapses, and with 2:44 to go in the game, Loughlin had the ball down 62-59, with a chance to tie up the game, but senior guard Kasey Brown missed a three, and then senior guard Sierra Calhoun, who did just about everything for Christ the King on Thursday, hit a massive three on the other end to up the lead back up to 65-59.
The Lions settled for way too many threes late, especially since they only hit one the entire game, but even though they fell short, their head coach Chez Williams was oozing with pride of his squads effort.
"Coming here to their court, with the young team we have, I am so proud of the girls. They gave an amazing effort tonight and I think it bodes well for us the rest of the way," Williams said.
Calhoun had a game high 35 points for Christ the King in the win, with sophomore guard Dominiquie Toussaint adding 11.
Loughlin was led by the 16 points of Brown, while sophomore wing Sky Patterson added 14 in the very impressive defeat.
Molloy and Christ the King will meet for the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Diocese Championship on Saturday at 6pm at St. Francis Prep in Queens, with the winner to receive the top seed in the upcoming State Catholic Tournament, which will decide the CHSAA representative in the Federation Tournament which takes place later on in March.