Only a single, small cloud lingered in the back of the Jamesville-DeWitt girls basketball team’s remarkable feat of three consecutive New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class A championships – the fact that it did not yet have a Federation Tournament of Champions title to go with that hardware collection.
But at Glens Falls’ Cool Insuring Arena (formerly Civic Center) last weekend, the Red Rams, with a third chance to seize Federation glory, finally found it.
Momo LeClair’s basket with 6.8 seconds left helped J-D defeat Brooklyn’s James Madison 42-41 in Saturday’s Federation final after trailing most of the way, allowing the Rams’ senior trio of Meg Hair, Jamie Boeheim and Kasey Vaughan to win their last high school game.
In an eerie parallel to last year’s title game on this same Glens Falls floor, J-D threatened to get derailed by missed free throws late in the fourth quarter, but its defense made sure things did not get away with big stops in the final minute.
Trailing 41-38, the Rams’ Meg Hair converted two foul shots to pull her team within one. Then the defense forced a crucial charge that turned the ball over to J-D with 28 seconds left.
Working down the clock, the Rams moved the ball around until LaClair, at the top of the key, decided to drive to the basket. Her running shot found the net and J-D was up by one.
James Madison still had time to win it, but the Rams’ pressure forced a shot off target as the clock ran out.
That it came down to defense only figured, since it was J-D’s resistance that allowed it to withstand a cold start where it fell behind 14-6, only to come to life in the second quarter with an 11-2 run.
They were tied, 17-17, at halftime, with the Public School Athletic League champion Golden Knights going back in front by as much as five in the third quarter.
It took a pair of 3-pointers from Hair to pull the Rams back, and when Paige Keeler converted from beyond the arc early in the fourth quarter, J-D had a 31-29 lead. Neither side would lead by more than three the rest of the way.
Before all this, the Rams had to go through the team that stopped them each of the previous two years.
The Federation semifinal on Friday morning saw the Rams reunite with Staten Island Academy, who beat them by narrow margins in the 2016 and 2017 finals – but here, J-D came out on top, taking charge in the first half and defeating the Tigers 59-47.
Given the early (9 a.m.) start time, it wasn’t surprising that the two sides took a while to get into game rhythm – but once J-D did so, it unleashed all that pent-up frustration on SIA.
Again, it was Meg Hair offering the spark, notching five straight points to erase an early Tigers lead and then assisting on two other baskets late in the first quarter.
As if that wasn’t enough, Hair scored the first four points of the second period, too, and by now the rest of the Rams were in top form, too, especially on defense, where it held SIA without a point for a long stretch.
Ultimately, J-D went on a 16-0 run, so even though the Tigers did score the last five points of the half, the Rams still carried a 29-18 lead to the break.
That double-digit margin held until SIA strung together eight straight points midway through the third quarter to close within 34-29. Naturally, Hair put an end to that surge with a timely basket, igniting the Rams’ own 9-0 push.
The trade of runs left it just where it was at halftime, J-D up by 11 (46-35), going to the fourth quarter, but SIA still wasn’t done, again charging to pull within six, 49-43.
Andrea Sumida’s basket stopped that last Tigers surge, and in the closing minutes J-D restored its double-digit margin and, on the third attempt, cleared the SIA hurdle.
Hair finished with 21 points. Boeheim added 11 points as Keeler got nine points. Vaughan and Gabby Stickle had six points apiece For SIA, Sophia Demauro (14 points), Emily LaPointe (13 points) and Franchesca Marchese (10 points) all scored in double figures.
In the other semifinal, James Madison, who pulled away to beat Buffalo Sacred Heart 57-41. Yet the Golden Knights could not keep J-D from, at last, winning the last game of the season – and the 117th win in a five-year run as great as any in local high school basketball annals.
Whether it continues depends on how other players join LaClair, Stickle, Sumida and Keeler in filling the massive void that Hair, Boeheim and Vaughan will leave behind.
Feb 17, 2019
Feb 17, 2019
Feb 17, 2019