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Peekskill presses GI into submission; Vikings' first loss ends title dream

The inside-out game that had served Grand Island so well all season did not accompany the team to Troy on Friday.

Instead of a state title and undefeated season that were within their grasp, the Vikings were handed a 41-34 loss by Peekskill of Section I in the New York State Class A girls basketball semifinals played before an estimated 600 at Hudson Valley Community College.

The Vikings were unstoppable this season with an offense that had the option inside to 6-foot-3 Cassie Oursler or outside to dangerous shooters like Danielle Wegrzyn, Kallie Banker and Brooke DeMarco.

Instead, Peekskill took those options away and threw a full court press at the Vikings, robbing them of their flow on offense while forcing 19 turnovers.

"That's their game plan, they want to do that," said GI coach Jenepher Banker. "It definitely slows you down and makes you do different things. Actually, I didn't think our kids did a bad job of handling the press, we just didn't attack at the end of the press."

Even when Grand Island managed to get the ball over half court, they were faced with an aggressive man-to-man defense that contested every pass and shut down their normal passing lanes.

Peekskill guard Asia Jackson not only led her team's scoring with 24 points, she also did a job on defense -- shutting down GI leading scorer Kallie Banker, who had just one field goal on 1-of-10 shooting, including 0 of 5 on three-point attempts. The crossover dribble and spin move that had provided the 5-10 point guard with so many open looks this season was not enough to free her against the suffocating defense of Jackson.

"She can go left and right, but I just played her honest, didn't let her shoot and had my hand in her face," said Jackson.

Banker was quick to acknowledge she was not on top of her game, although she did have six steals and six rebounds before fouling out with 22 seconds left.

"We didn't play our Grand Island basketball. I blame myself," she said. "I don't think I was attacking enough, and I was too worried about bringing the ball up the floor against the press that I forgot the offensive part of the game. That's what happened to me."

Wegrzyn had another solid outing in leading the Vikings with 16 points, including back-to-back three-pointers at the end of the third quarter. "It was a good feeling because I wanted to be able to get our team back in it, but unfortunately it wasn't enough," said Wegrzyn, who was named to the all-tournament team.

The 34 points were the fewest for GI since a 32-31 win over Lockport on Feb. 15. The Vikings' only lead of the game was 1-0 on a free throw by Oursler. GI made just four trips to the free-throw line while Peekskill made 25.

Oursler was five inches taller than anyone on the Peekskill roster, but they did a good job of fronting her. When a lob pass did make its way in, at least two other players collapsed on Oursler, robbing her of a chance to maneuver in the paint. She scored nine of her 10 points in the second half and had eight rebounds.

"After the first half I didn't know exactly what I was looking for, and then in the second half I was more familiar with what was going on and I felt pumped up and I knew what I was supposed to do so I felt more comfortable," said Oursler. "It was our first time facing a press, and we had a bunch of plays to break the press, but they're fast. Obviously it had an affect on us. I'm disappointed because we could have won, but it's also great that we made it this far."

Grand Island was making its first trip to the state final four. They ended the most successful season in school history with a 23-1 record.

e-mail: mmonnin@buffnews.com