One state Class A championship was impressive, special and memorable – and for the Jamesville-DeWitt girls basketball team, it was not enough.
With Saturday night’s tense, pulsating 48-46 victory over Pittsford Mendon at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, the Red Rams won its second straight state title, wasting no time climbing back to the top rung of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association after finally doing so 12 months ago.
Quite unlike the 2016 state final where J-D blew out Floral Park by a record championship-game margin of 45 points (82-37), the Rams had to go all 32 minutes to put away the Vikings, rallying from behind early in the second half to sneak in front of Mendon, but nearly squandering a double-digit lead at the wire.
With a 70-42 romp over Elmont in the state semifinals right behind them, all that stood in the way of that second straight state title was Mendon, who carried a perfect 25-0 record into the final, but had to work harder in its state semifinal win over Somers than J-D did running away from Elmont.
Yet just like the Elmont game, the Rams found itself trailing throughout the early stages. Mendon attacked hard, on both ends, forcing J-D to match the Vikings’ level of intensity, and do so while seeing star forward Julia Kelner pick up two early fouls.
Angela Bussone provided a jolt when her long 3-point shot beat the buzzer at the end of the first quarter, cutting the Rams’ deficit to 15-14. Again, Mendon responded, going inside to Caroline Cullinan and eighth-grader Lexi Green for baskets on one end and ramping up its defense, too.
At one point late in the half, J-D turned the ball over on four straight possessions. It was that Vikings defense that helped the challengers take a 27-22 lead to intermission, with Cullinan getting nine points and Sara Lyons adding eight points, each of them ahead of Meg Hair’s total of six points.
Having outscored Elmont 41-9 in the second half a day earlier, J-D was hoping for something close to that blitz to overtake Mendon – and got it.
Kelner started the third quarter with a basket and foul. Bussone followed with a 3-pointer, and when Kelner sank two free throws, J-D went up 31-30, its first lead of the night, and moments later Jamie Boeheim converted, was fouled and made the free throw, an old-fashioned three-point play.
Not to be left out of the fun, eighth-grader Momo LeClair connected on consecutive 3-point shots, and in just four minutes, the Rams had gone on an 18-3 run, seeming taking control.
But it wasn’t over yet. J-D did not score a single point the rest of the period, allowing the Vikings to regroup. The Rams’ drought stretched deep into the fourth quarter, too, as Mendon’s 8-0 run cut the deficit to two, 40-38.
And even after J-D got on the board again, it turned into a struggle all the way to the wire. Clinging to a 47-44 lead, J-D committed more costly turnovers, and Cullinan’s basket with less than a minute left made it 47-46.
Hair, with a 3-point attempt to clinch the game, missed, and the Vikings rebounded, calling timeout with 24.6 seconds to play with a chance to go ahead. But Kelner made her biggest block of the season and Boeheim chased down the loose ball while Hair collided with Cullinan.
That stopped the clock with 9.8 seconds to play. Cullinan went out, and while she was attended to, Mendon fouled LaClair.
With 7.3 seconds left, LaClair, whose role increased after an ankle injury sidelined starting point guard Kasey Vaughan two weeks earlier, made one of them.
Down by two, the Vikings had one more chance to tie or win it with the ball underneath the Rams’ basket, but in a fitting situation, J-D’s vaunted defense made one more stop, securing a second state championship.
Now the Red Rams will go to Glens Falls Civic Center for the New York State Federation Tournament of Champions, where it faces Catholic High School Athletic Association champion Kellenberg Saturday at 11 a.m. in the semifinals, the winner to go to Sunday’s noon final against James Madison (New York City PSAL) or Staten Island Academy (New York State Association of Independent Schools).
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