ALBANY, NY - Having gone down 26-7 late in the opening quarter, having lost star player Shadeen Samuels '16 to her 4th foul with 2:37 to go in the second quarter, and playing the 2 time defending champions, there was very little reason for anyone to believe that Ossining had a chance of coming back against Long Island Lutheran in the Class "AA" Federation Championship Game on Saturday night in Albany, but the Pride proved you can never count out the heart of a champion.
They have been counted out before this season with many saying they were just too young to even win a Section 1 Championship, but Ossining head coach Dan Ricci had his team playing great down the stretch, and led by Samuels and freshman sensation Aubrey Griffin '19, Ossining did something near no one predicted they would do as they rallied from 19 down to shock the Crusaders and win the Federation Title, 64-54.
It was a game that Ricci himself never thought they would be in when the season began. He was going to start 3 freshmen, no one that young could win even a NYSPHSAA Championship, but this Ossining team proved them all wrong, using the doubters as motivation to thrive and pursue their main goal, a Federation Championship.
Ricci and Ossining have many NYSPHSAA Championships, but the Federation Title has eluded them year after year with Long Island Lutheran the team that more times than not have been there to block them from winning it all, and while this year the Crusaders were there in their way again, there was no way they could down LuHi this year, it just couldn't be done the players were hearing leading up to this game, but they went out with a chip on their shoulders looking to bring home the Pride's first Federation Championship.
As much as the team believed the start that Ossining got off to was about as bad as bad could be. Celeste Taylor '19 was able to score on a drive down the right side to open scoring, and as the Pride missed and missed, LuHi continued to score and score, jumping out to a 16-2 lead before many people in attendance could even blink.
It looked like the game was getting away from Ossining before it had even began, but instead of getting mad and frustrated at his team, Ricci said he took a different approach with his girls in the early going this time.
"My philosophy is when we are down I have to be more positive," Ricci said. "There wasn't any yelling or screaming like I normally do, I was more positive and all the offensive players on the floor I just said you got to make a shot."
While it wasn't easy eventually the tide did start to turn. Long Island Lutheran took a 26-7 lead late in the opening quarter, but Ossining started soon after to chip away.
First it was forward Kailah Harris '19 inside scoring on back to back putbacks, and then it was Griffin who was able to pick off an errant pass and finish in transition. The lead was eventually cut down to 30-21 for Long Island Lutheran but that is when Samuels, the Pride's leader, top scorer, and captain was hit with her 4th foul with 2:37 to go in the half.
She had picked up her 3rd foul seconds earlier and Ricci didn't have enough time to take her out before picking up foul #4. It was a tough spot to be in for a team loaded with youth, but Griffin said it was at that moment that she decided that her and her fellow freshmen were no long freshmen.
"We had to step up. We couldn't be freshmen anymore because we knew we had to play like veterans and make sure we stayed in the game," Griffin said.
With Samuels relegated to the bench the Pride did manage to stay in the game, and they did more than that actually as they finished the half by scoring the last 7 points with guard Kelsey Quain '19 knocking down a big three ball to make it just 30-28 in favor of Long Island Lutheran at the half.
The momentum had completely swung the other way in favor of Ossining, and at the half Samuels, who knew she would still be on the bench for a while longer, said she looked into the eyes of her teammates and knew that they would be able to stay in the game until she would be able to re-enter.
"I am not Ossining basketball, the team does well without me," Samuels said. "I guess I make the team better for everyone but I knew that they would be able to stay in the game because I believe in everyone we have and knew they could do it."
She was proved to be exactly right, though each time Ossining did have a chance to take a lead they seemed to feel the heat as Griffins missed a layup that could've tuned the game late in the 3rd, and even though Quain was able to again knock down a three, this time from the left corner, LuHi guard Sarah Mortensen '16 was starting to carry her team as the Crusaders were still clinging on to a 42-40 lead going into the 4th quarter.
There were just 8 minutes left to decide who was New York's best in girl’s basketball this season in Class "AA", and it was Samuels time to come back into the game with Ricci admitting the plan all along was for her to start the 4th quarter, and with Samuels in the game, she found a wide open Quain who buried her 3rd three of the game to give Ossining its first lead at 43-42 with 7:14 to play.
Jenna Silletti '16, who had a phenomenal Federation Tournament overall, gave the Crusaders the lead back quickly, but it wasn't long lasting as Samuels scored on a putback inside, and then a steal by Griffins allowed an easy fast break bucket for the Pride to take a 3-point lead with 5:56 to go.
The perimeter shots of Long Island Lutheran struggled to find the bottom of the net as a hot shooting start flipped on a dime ad the Crusaders went stone cold just when they needed big baskets the most, and with LuHi not able to find ways to score, Ossining was able to take advantage as Samuels, who sat for nearly 2 and a half quarters, was able to rack up 12 fourth quarter points, proving herself to be the star that she is on what is considered to be the biggest stage in New York H.S. Basketball.
Ossining's lead continued to expand to first 5, and then 7, and it grew to double digits soon after as FT's by the likes of Samuels and guard Samantha Cozzolino '16 helped seal the deal on what could be considered one of the greatest comebacks in Girls Federation Tournament history as the Pride were able to claw their way back and shock everyone as they never stopped believing to come back from a massive early deficit to take down Long Island Lutheran 64-54 for the Class "AA" Federation Championship.
Griffin had 22 points to lead Ossining in the title game victory while Samuels added 17 points and Quain knocked down 3 of the biggest threes of her life to finish with 9 points.
Long Island Lutheran may remember this game as a game of what ifs. They were in control and then it just seemed to get away from them in the blink of an eye. Mortensen finished out her LuHi career with 18 points, with guard Grace Stone '18 pouring in 12 points as well in the defeat for the Crusaders.
It was a joyous atmosphere after the game for the Pride and their supporters as they made history in being the first ever Ossining team to win a Federation Championship, and doing it with a team that wasn't even considered a team that could win a State Title made it even that more sweet.
All the State Titles that Samuels has won throughout her career are things she admits she cherishes and holds dear to her heart. She won during each of her 4 years at Ossining and each will always be a part of what she remembers most during her H.S. years, but being able to be a part of the first ever Federation Championship winners, is something that goes to #1 in her book.
"This means more than any State Championship we won because we have never done this before," Samuels said. "We made history tonight and this will be something that people remember forever."
It's something that already is holding a big place in Ricci's heart. The head coach had seen his team labeled as a team that couldn't win the big one in a Federation Tournament game against a major New York opponent, but now that stigma is gone as he knows that he and his seniors will carry this win with them now for the rest of their lives.
"We knew this was going to be our last night together win or lose and seniors very rarely get to win and go out as winners in their last games, and they now get to go out as winners and that is something I am very very proud of. This is really an amazing feeling and I just am so happy right now, I really cannot even explain it."