BRONX, NY - For the past 15 years, the Murry Bergtraum girls basketball team has reigned supreme in the PSAL. 15 years, 15 PSAL titles. They were invincible, they were a dynasty, a force that no one could seemingly stop, but that all came to an end on Tuesday at Lehman College in the Bronx, as Francis Lewis stormed back from a late 10 point deficit to shock the Lady Blazers in the PSAL semifinals, 61-57.
The Patriots had played, and lost to Bergtraum twice this season, but they were in both games from start to finish, and Francis Lewis coach Stephen Tsai said this Patriots team, more than those in the past, had the confidence to topple to the mighty Blazers.
"With prior teams, I'm not sure they believed they could beat Bergtraum, this group always believed," Tsai said. "Bergtraum beat us twice yes, but we were always in the game, so we felt like we had a chance today."
Francis Lewis star sophomore guard Sierra Green echoed Tsai's belief, noting she was angry about how Bergtraum had ruled for so long, and she wanted it over.
"I was so tired of them walking all over us," Green said.
If that was the feeling going into the game, Francis Lewis didn't show it because they allowed Bergtraum to basically do whatever they wanted in the early going, with junior forward Alexandra Smith scoring 8 early points to set the tone, and prove they were not afraid of new Patriots forward, senior Chelsea Robinson, who joined the team just last week.
After one, Francis Lewis was down 10 to Bergtraum, and things looked about the same as they always had, with the Lady Blazers in control, but Patriots sophomore guard Taliyah Brisco admitted that while the deficit was not in their plan for the game, that it didn't sting them as much as you might think.
"When we were down by a lot we stayed confident because we knew we had a lot of time to come back," Brisco said.
And while Smith continued to be able to finish strong in the paint for Bergtraum, the Patriots were doing a nice job on the perimeter against Lady Blazers guards, junior Ashanae McLaughlin and senior Joella Gibson, shutting them down for the most part in the opening half, and while Green was not able to get off good looks for Francis Lewis, credit Brisco and junior guard Chi La Bady for keeping the Patriots in it, making a few clutch shots late in the 2nd quarter to be down just 28-22 at the break.
Tsai said he focused on keeping the game within striking distance in the 2nd half, while Brisco said the attitude wasn't bad in the locker room, instead focusing on the positive on what could've been a very bad half.
"Coach said it's only 2 possessions, and we hadn't played that well, so it was just about stepping up," Brisco said.
In the 3rd though, it wasn't really anyone on Francis Lewis who stepped up, it was McLaughlin for Bergtraum, as the junior guard scored 9 points in the quarter including what could've been a dagger three ball at the end of 3rd buzzer that gave the Lady Blazers back a 10 point lead at 46-36.
With 3:28 to go in the 4th it still was looking bleak for Francis Lewis, down 55-45, and Brisco had just fouled out, but Brisco knew her team wasn't out of it, and as she went towards the bench, she gave words of encouragement to her teammate Green.
"I felt it in my heart that we were going to win," Brisco said. "When I went to the bench I told Sierra it's time, it's time to beat them, and she said I got you."
From that moment on, it seemed like a switch went on for Francis Lewis. Sophomore forward Dominique Williams converted on a pair of FT's, and then after a missed FT by McLaughlin, Green stepped up and knocked down a triple, then a steal led to a three by junior guard Robyn Francis, and just like that a 10 point Francis Lewis deficit was trimmed to just 2 with two minutes to play.
Bergtraum freshman guard Milicia Reid hit on 1 of 2 FT's after being fouled to make it a 3 point Blazers lead, but with 1:06 left Green knocked down a long three from the left wing to tie the game at 56, and at that point, Green said all the pressure was on Bergtraum to hold on.
"Yeah I think they were rattled," Green admitted. "They didn't want to lose that streak, that 15 peat. I wouldn't want to either and I'm sure they were thinking about it."
Green said it felt as if they had control at that point, and when she knocked down 2 FT's with 38.2 seconds to go, she gave the Patriots their first lead of the game. Soon after, Smith was all for an offensively foul, as Robinson took the charge, fouling out Smith, who had been so important for Bergtraum in the 1st half.
Robinson was fouled, and made 1 of 2 from the line to make it 59-57 Lewis with 23 seconds to go. Bergtraum got the ball back, and McLaughlin looked as if she had a good lane to drive in, but the ball was poked away from her by Williams, who outletting the ball to junior Cassidy Khan who scored the easy lay up to make it 61-57 with just over 10 seconds to play.
The Lady Blazers had one more possession, but Gibson couldn't finish on a layup going inside, and that would do it for the game, and the Bergtraum streak, as the Francis Lewis girls rushed the court to celebrate, as they did the unthinkable, knocking off Murry Bergtraum in the PSAL "AA" Girls Semifinals, 61-57.
Brisco led Francis Lewis with 15 points, while Green added 13, with 8 of those coming in the all important 4th quarter. Robinson added 8 as well for the Patriots in the win.
McLaughlin paced Bergtraum, and led all scorers with 19 points in the loss, with Smith chipping in with 14.
It is the first time Ed Grezinsky, the Murry Bergtraum head coach, has lost a PSAL playoff game since 1998, and while he was clearly frustrated, and disappointed after the loss, he took it as well as can be expected, giving credit to what he called, a strong Patriots team.
"You have to give them credit, they played hard and never quit," Grezinsky said.
Grezinsky said that it was tough, especially because they were seemingly in control of the game for so long, but that it just wasn't enough on this day to extend his team's record wing run in the PSAL.
"We've had a good run. You try and win as much as you can, and we worked real hard, we had the game all the way, but we just lost it at the end," the coach explained. "That's the way it goes sometimes, what are you going to do."
The win, and being able to say they were the team that finally put an end to the Bergtraum streak, made this quite a night for Francis Lewis. Brisco called it a special moment, saying that no one is supposed to beat them, but they did.
Tsai, who while also calling it a great moment, didn't want to get too overjoyed, knowing there is a bigger goal for the Patriots in his eyes,
"I told the girls that we can't settle for this, that this isn't why we are here, that we are here for something bigger," Tsai explained. "We will give them the chance to celebrate now, but it will be back to work soon."
While it may be back to work soon, Tsai also knows that taking down Bergtraum is a great moment for his coaches, his players, and his school.
"It's great, and I'm very proud."
South Shore Double-Downs Midwood, 52-25
The Lady Vikings got out to a quick lead and never looked back, coasting in the 4th quarter en route to the convincing and lopsided 27 point victory.
Junior forward Brianna Fraser led the way for South Shore with 16 points, with freshman guard Valena Hickerson adding 12 in the win.
For Midwood in defeat, they were led by the 9 points of senior forward Amina Markovic.
This sets up Francis Lewis to play South Shore on Saturday at 12pm for the PSAL Girls "AA" Championship at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, with for the first time in 16 years, a new champion being crowned.