ALBANY, NY - While Long Island Lutheran seemed to have the edge on Ossining from the very start in the Federation Class "AA" Championship game, most everyone knew that down the stretch, the Pride would make a run, after their near miraculous comeback win the night before over St. Anthony's, you could never count them out. Ossining once again fought back from a 3rd quarter 13 point deficit, but a clutch Erin Storck three for the Crusaders tipped the game to LuHi for good, with the Crusaders winning the AA title game, 63-57.
Storck, a junior guard in her first year at LuHi after transferring in from Commack, said that even during the highs in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, where the Crusaders seemed to have the game under control, that she knew the game was far from over.
"Basketball is all about runs," Storck said. "Especially when you have a great team on the other side like Ossining who shoot the ball so well, we knew they would make a run, we just wanted to make sure we made the last run."
Ossining needed to make a run in the game though because of the flying start that LuHi got out to. Taylor Byrne, a senior forward who is Seton Hall bound next season, was a dominant force in the paint, she commanded double teams, but still was able to grab rebounds and finish in the paint to help Lutheran open up a late first quarter double digit lead, and while her game may not have a lot of flash, the finally fully healthy Byrne says she knew that her role would be crucial in this one.
"I knew they had some really great interior players, so I knew that I would have to step it up and get as many rebounds and putbacks as I could," Byrne said. "It was time for me to step up."
She did, and her role was even more important with star junior guard Lauren "Boogie" Brozoski on the bench for large stretches in foul trouble.
Ossining though, which is known as a fantastic three point shooting team, really struggled to get any sort of shooting rhythm, which Lady Pride head coach Dan Ricci said was because of the tremendous perimeter defense that LuHi played, and at the half it was 32-24 for the Crusaders.
The 2nd half started just as he 1st half finished, with LuHi building on their lead, but all of a sudden, Ossining's shots started falling. Madison Strippoli, a junior forward, along with sophomore forward Shadeen Samuels, each knocked down a pair of treys, and before you could blink, the once almost insurmountable Long Island Lutheran lead was gone, as when Strippoli connected on her last three with 3:51 left in the game, the a Pride had gone up 54-51, and though it was a dicey situation at that point for the Crusaders, head coach Rich Slater said he never once had doubt come into his head.
"I just said give me 200%, and stay cool and composed," Slater said. "I was concerned, but I never doubted, I think that's a big difference."
The reason he didn't have doubt was because Brozoski was back on the floor creating and making plays, and he also had Storck, a shooter who Slater says doesn't shoot enough. But in this one, she took and made the shot of the year.
Down 57-56 with just over a minute to go, senior guard Katie Lavelle had the ball and seemed to have an open lane down the right wing, but instead of taking it in, she kicked to Storck in the right corner, who then went to bury the three, to see LuHi take the 59-57 lead, a shot Slater said showed the team unity and dedication to win his team has.
"Katie could've gone in and probably had a layup, but the unselfishness to know Erin had a great shot was amazing, and for her to knock down that shot, it was special," Slater said.
Storck said as soon as she caught it she felt as if she needed to make that shot, sensing its importance, and on the biggest stage, she nailed it to put LuHi up for good.
Ossining had opportunities, but Jalay Knowles and Abby Squirrell, a pair of junior wings for the Pride, missed threes that may have been a bit rushed, and Long Island Lutheran closed it out from the FT line as Brozoski made 4 straight in the closing seconds to end it, as the Crusaders became the first team in Federation history to win titles in Class "B", Class "A", and now Class "AA", taking down Ossining, 63-57.
LuHi was led by its star, Brozoski, who had 18 points and 5 assists, giving her 3rd Federation championship in her 4th year of varsity basketball at the school, while Byrne had 15 points and 15 rebounds, and Storck, who hit the massive three, had 10.
Strippoli, Samuels, and Knowles each paced Ossining with 12 points apiece, and though they played well, Ricci admitted after the game that this one would sting him for quite a bit.
Slater gave all the credit to the girls though for LuHi's win, saying they are the stars, and that their performance on the court in giving Long Island Lutheran its 2nd straight Federation title it what it's all about, but for a senior in Byrne, who goes out as a champion, she says this one was for her coach.
"Coach is so special and pushes us so hard to be the best we can be, I'm just so happy I could help win this for him, and for the school, it's amazing, and I am just so happy," Byrne said with a big smile.
A 2nd straight Federation championship, and with so many players coming back next season, the talk right after the game had already turned to next year, where Brozoski could become the first player to win 4 Federation titles, and she knows it, and believes it will happen.
"This is incredible, and I'm so happy, but I have one more year, and I want to win it again, and I believe we will."