ALBANY, NY - When St. Anthony's took an 18 point lead on Ossining in the Federation Class "AA" Girls Semifinals on Friday night from the Times Union Center, it seemed like it was a done deal for the Friars, who were getting phenomenal efforts from their Division 1 backcourt of senior's Chastity Taylor and Charise Wilson.
Pride star junior Jalay Knowles was saddled with foul trouble the entire game and this looked bleak for them, but behind the play of sophomore's Shadeen Samuels and Alexis Bernardo, Ossining erased the deficit and came all the way back to take the 85-79 overtime victory.
Ossining head coach Dan Ricci stated that his motto coming into their playoff run this season was "whatever it takes". It's a matter of pride, literally, for the Pride, as they have heard from last summer 'til today that they aren't good enough. Without superstar Saniya Chong, who is now at UConn, they couldn't win, but they were determined to prove the "haters" as the Pride players refer to them, wrong.
"We wanted to prove everyone wrong," Bernardo said. "No one thought we would be here, people didn't think we would even win our Section, so we had a lot to prove."
Proving people wrong was going to be tough when you get down by as much as the Pride did in this one. Friars point guard, senior Tyla Parham, was running the show beautifully, finding Wilson and sophomore Allyson Murphy for good looks on the perimeter, while Taylor seemed to be aggressive attacking the rim at the Pride defense.
Ricci admitted he was disheartened by his teams defense, or lack thereof, against St. Anthony's for the better part of three quarters, as Ossining trailed by 14 going to the 4th, but he said he still believed in his team's ability to come back, and because of that, he never got down on them.
"I'm hard on my kids but I learned a long time ago to not be hard on them when they are losing, to just build them up," Ricci said.
It was that positivity according to Samuels that really fueled Ossining, that plus that fact that Knowles had 4 early fouls and was a non factor fouling out late in the 3rd, which Bernardo said was a huge motivating factor for the Pride.
"We wanted to do this for Jalay because she has picked us up all season so we wanted to pick her up and do this for her" Bernardo admitted.
What happened in the 4th was nothing short of impressive for the Pride. Bernardo became red hot from deep connecting on 4 threes in the 4th, and Samuels, who chipped apart of her kneecap late last season, and at one point was a question mark if she would even play this year, stepped up to score 10 in the quarter as the 14 point deficit heading into the 4th was evaporated less than halfway through the quarter, and it was a whole new ballgame with Ossining now on top, and their confidence was extremely high.
"We felt if we could make some shots we could get back in it because the zone they play allows you to have open looks, it was just a matter of hitting open shots for us," Ricci stressed.
St. Anthony's didn't fade away though, with Jayla Jones-Pack, the Friars sophomore forward, scoring in the paint. Along with Wilson's big trey late in the game, St. Anthony's was able to rally back and help send the game into overtime.
In the OT though, Samuels was on top of her game, scoring 7 of her teams 14 points in the session, along with a pair of big defensive rebounds that helped seal the deal, and the massive comeback win for Ossining, taking down St. Anthony's 85-79.
Samuels had a game high 29 points and 13 rebounds, and Ricci said there was no shock in his eyes in the performance of his stud sophomore.
"She's our most gifted basketball player, and now that she is healed and confident she is very very tough to stop," Ricci stated.
Berbardo added 22 of the bench, while Stefanie Svoboda had 13 points as well, including a huge three in the clutch.
Taylor and Wilson paced St. Anthony's in the loss with 26 and 20 points respectively, while the future looks bright as Murphy added 11 points and 6 rebounds in a solid effort.
Almost unanimously, the Ossining girls said this was far and away the biggest comeback win they had ever had, and while Ricci says he has experienced other good comebacks in the other sports he coaches including the Pride's football team, this stands atop for a very good reason.
"I've never had a comeback where my best player didn't play much. It was amazing to see them come together as a team and get the job done."
Ricci added he is proud of his team, but he knows that there is one more job to do.
"We want to become the 1st ever Section 1 Federation Class AA champion. That's our goal and regardless of if it's Long Island Lutheran or Francis Lewis, we will give it our all."
Long Island Lutheran Ousts Francis Lewis, 53-42
It will be the Crusaders whom Ossining will face for the Federation "AA" title on Saturday night after they took down the Patriots by 11 in what was a very sloppy game.
"We didn't play our best offensively, I'm surprised the people in the crowd didn't fall asleep, but we got the job done defensively and got the win," LuHi head coach Rich Slater said after the win.
Junior guard Lauren "Boogie" Brozoski and senior guard Katie Lavelle each had 14 points apiece for LuHi, while Chi La Bady led Francis Lewis with 11 points, with the Crusaders holding Patriots star sophomore Sierra Green to just 9 points.
While the Crusaders didn't bring their A game on Saturday, which Slater admitted, he said he is confident they will come out and play much better in the title game on Saturday.
"Oh yes, we will be ready."