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James Madison's strong second half overwhelms Sacred Heart

GLENS FALLS – Sacred Heart lost its way during Friday's New York State Federation Tournament of Champions Class A girls basketball semifinal. Straying off the path that led to many Shark victories this season proved to be a bad thing here at Cool Insuring Arena.

Sacred Heart's quest to win a Federation title for the first time since 1992 is over, while James Madison's continues.

The PSAL champion had too much of everything to be undone by a Sharks team that hung tough for a half. The end result: Golden Knights 57, Sacred Heart 41.

James Madison used its size, skill and previous experience on the Federation stage to its advantage before an estimated 500 at the venue formerly known as the Glens Falls Civic Center. The Knights turned a one-point halftime lead into a double-digit advantage in a matter a minutes. Post player Ketsia Athias proved the ultimate difference-maker for the winners. She scored 10 of her 15 points in the third quarter, including the first eight of the period as a Madison crew that had almost completely frittered away an early double-digit lead emphatically regained control.

Alina Estrella finished with 16 points, while Ericka James added 15 for James Madison (28-1), which led 45-30 through three quarters.

"We got away from ourselves today," Sacred Heart coach Carrie Owens said. "We got away from everything that we did to get here today. We weren't looking to score (in the third quarter). There was no sense of urgency. … We weren’t pushing the ball up court. We could've done a lot better defensively. They exposed our weaknesses as far as our mismatches."

For as much as the Sharks struggled on offense, credit has to go to a Madison team with an abundance of tall players who thrived in its usual 2-3 zone. The Sharks shot 13 for 47 (28 percent), including just 3 of 12 from beyond the arc. They tried scoring in the paint but either failed to convert or got swatted by Athias. She had seven of her team's eight blocks.

Seniors Micaela Ryan and Elizabeth Hill finished 14 and 11 points, respectively, to lead Sacred Heart (20-9), which lost in the Federation semifinals for the second time in three seasons.

"We probably missed 15-20 points in the paint and they were finishing everything," said Owens, noting that when the Sharks took the outside game away the Knights did a fine job converting inside and vice versa.

While Madison seemed to have the answers, the game was still there for the taking for Sacred Heart. After the Sharks fell behind, 22-10, they stormed back during the final four minutes of the second quarter. Siobhan and Micaela Ryan hit back-to-back t3-pointers during a 13-2 closing run that brought Sacred Heart within 24-23 at halftime.

The momentum didn't follow the Sharks back out onto the court. Madison regrouped and attacked Sacred Heart's weaknesses.

The Knights' reward for doing that so well: They face New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association champion Jamesville-DeWitt of Section III for the title of undisputed Class A champion in the state at 4 p.m. Saturday. J-D ended Staten Island Academy's reign as Fed champion by cruising to a 59-47 victory in the early Friday morning game.

"It's hard right now," Hill said. "This isn't how we wanted to end it. We have a lot to be proud of. We got this far. We won states. It hurts now but this team accomplished so much. It just wasn't going our way, and at the end of the day that happens sometimes."

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