ALBANY – In the long hall of the Times Union Center, members of the Sacred Heart girls basketball team gathered in front of a tournament sign to take a photo with a New York State Federation Tournament of Champions plaque serving as the center of attention.
All those smiling faces, one could easily have thought the Sharks were commemorating their latest biggest victory in years, preparing for one more big game.
They were just adding one final keepsake to the memory banks to serve as a reminder of just how they defied the odds in reaching the season-ending Federation Tournament.
Only the winners of the three state athletic association playoff tournaments and New York City Public Schools Athletic League champion are allowed to participate in the Federation. Sacred Heart earned its way by winning its first Catholic State High Schools Athletic Association title in almost 25 years last weekend.
While being an overall state champ would have definitely been sweet, Saturday afternoon’s 72-52 loss to Staten Island Academy does nothing to change the fact the Sharks are still a state champion for the first time since 1992. That’s something still worth celebrating even though they won’t be playing in the final basketball game of the season Sunday at Times Union Center.
“This was a really big deal just for us to get here,” said senior Sarah Young, the St. Bonaventure commit who finished the final game of her scholastic career with 13 points and 10 rebounds. “This is a big moment for our entire team and definitely something to remember when we look back.”
“To play with the people I’ve played with this year is amazing,” added sophomore point guard Danielle Hore, who also finished with 13 points.
Almost as amazing as Sacred Heart going on a playoff run of this length, especially after the Sharks (20-8) lost senior scoring threat Kathleen Ryan to a season-ending knee injury against Cardinal O’Hara in late January.
Factor in a late regular-season loss to Nichols and it wasn’t a certainty Sacred Heart would even reach the Monsignor Martin Association final to secure the league’s Class A berth into the state playoffs. Remember, the league voted in a rule to send the regular-season champion into the state Catholic tournament as a Class AA school even though there isn’t an AA-sized school in the league.
But the Sharks lost in the league final to O’Hara and won twice last weekend in New York City with Young averaging 23 points in the two wins to reach the Federation for the first time since winning the Class D crown in 1992.
Sacred Heart hung in there for over a quarter. The problem: basketball is a four-quarter game.
After the Sharks tied the game, 13-13, on a driving layup by Young early in the second quarter, the Lady Tigers’ turned up the speed factor – scoring in transition and pressing to force a plethora of turnovers that led to easy baskets. When the quarter ended, Staten Island went into the locker room leading, 35-17.
“We had some lulls where we didn’t protect the basketball and it hurt us,” first-year Sharks coach Debbie Laux said.
The Lady Tigers led by 30 after three quarters. Corrinn Baggs and Clare Mitchell each had 14 points to lead eight Staten Island players in scoring.
Staten Island Academy (18-6), last year’s Federation Class B champion, will face Jamesville-DeWitt (27-1) of Section III for the overall Class A crown at noon Sunday.
“I told the girls not to let this game define our season,” Laux said. “We’re still state champions.”