NEW YORK, NY - Coming in as the defending champions and having dominated the PSAL once again this season, the pressure was on head coach Anwar Gladden and his South Shore squad to put together a big game on the biggest stage of them all, the PSAL Class "AA" Championship Game at Madison Square Garden.
Saturday morning was the day that the Lady Vikings would have the chance to put their stamp on the season and prove that they are the elite of the elite in the PSAL, and with a dominant defensive effort through much of the game, that including holding their opponents in Francis Lewis scoreless in the 2nd quarter, South Shore was able to run away with it and win back to back titles, taking down the Lady Patriots, 55-39.
The key coming into this game was easy in the mind of South Shore forward Earlette Scott '18. She understood that while putting points on the board was of course going to be important, it was going to be the the defensive effort that her and her Lady Vikings put out that would dictate how they would play.
"Defense is our key," Scott said. "Once our defense is there, our offense will come."
Pretty much from the very start those words rang very true as South Shore played a suffocating matchup zone that took the Francis Lewis star guards out of their rhythm. Only guard Sabrina Vitale '18 was able to connect on a FG in the opening quarter, a three from the left wing, and the Lady Vikings were able to take advantage as guard Tsahai Corbie '17 was able to knock down a pair of long range shots to put South Shore up 11-6 after one.
The first quarter had to be characterized as solid for South Shore, though Gladden said his team left a few buckets out there, but the second quarter could almost have been described as perfect.
You can call in perfect because South Shore didn't allow Francis Lewis to get on the board at all. They stuck to the defensive game plan and outscored the Lady Patriots 10-0 in the second quarter as forward Jordan Washington '16 was able to control the paint and glass for South Shore, and with the Lady Vikings playing the type of defense game that Gladden wanted, it was just becoming too much for Francis Lewis as South Shore held a 21-6 lead at the break.
For as well as you can give credit to South Shore's defense, Francis Lewis missed open chances from the outside and shot just 6% in the opening half, putting themselves in a whole that Francis Lewis head coach Stephen Tsai admitted was too much to dig out of.
"It's about playing smart and not just hard at this point, and we dug ourselves such a hole it was going to be very hard to get out of," Tsai admitted.
They may have been down by 15, but credit Francis Lewis for at least digging in and not quitting in the 3rd quarter as guard Taliyah Brisco '16 started to take control on the offensive side for the Lady Patriots, playing confident from the outside and attacking the zone of South Shore the way the coaching staff wanted.
While the offense started to wake up for a bit for Francis Lewis, South Shore also started to connect more as well with Scott becoming a big offensive weapon in the second half, and combine that with the fact that forward Selena Philoxy '17 was grabbing offensive rebound after offensive rebound, the Lady Vikings were able to maintain a 15 point lead heading into the 4th.
It was a valiant attempt to hang around for Francis Lewis but South Shore and their depth and ability to score inside when they wanted helped them eventually pull away. With 4:12 to go in the game the Lady Vikings opened up their biggest lead of the game at 47-21, and it was clear at that point that the defending champions were going to go home the title once again.
The benches cleared with just under 3 minutes to go, and while the Francis Lewis bench did a solid job of helping make the final score seem closer than the game may have been, it was still a South Shore afternoon as the Lady Vikings were able to celebrate on the Garden floor for a second straight year, knocking off Francis Lewis in convincing fashion, 55-39.
It was a very balanced effort for South Shore this time around as while last years championship game victory was dominated by now Maryland star Brianna Fraser, this year it was both Scott and Philoxy who had 10 points a piece to lead the way, while guard Keyanna Glover '18 had 8 points and Corbie had 7.
Francis Lewis was paced by Brisco who had a game high 11 points, while guard Sierra Green '16 in her final high school game had 10 points, with all of them coming in the 4th quarter.
Scott was named Championship Game MVP and it was an honor she said after the game left her feeling as if this was a dream, though Gladden said he will end that soon.
"Its ok, I will wake her up on Monday," Gladden said with a laugh.
He will wake her up because they still have games to play as South Shore will now prepare to represent the PSAL in the New York State Class "AA" Federation Tournament in Albany next weekend.
Gladden considers this win to possibly be the start of something very special for this South Shore program, believing that they future is extremely bright for what is a team that this year had only 2 seniors, but he wants to focus right now on whats still ahead for this group this season, and that is proving that they are not just the cream of the crop in the PSAL, but that they are also the best in New York State.
"We dominated the PSAL from start to finish this year. We beat Grand Street Campus, Francis Lewis, and Truman three games in a row, all on the road, and dominated. This was icing on the cake in terms of the PSAL and now we are looking forward to winning states."