NEW PALTZ – There were a few tears afterwards, but the eyes dried not long after. Some players, in fact, provided themselves solace as they spoke.
For as disappointed as the Highland girls basketball team was to see its season come to an end on Tuesday, they soon were reminded that this campaign wasn’t their hallmark, but a steppingstone.
“This hurts a little bit right now,” junior Candace McCutcheon said. “But we’ll learn from this. We’re coming back next time and we’ll be better. I can promise that.”
After crashing the Section 9 bracket as a sixth seed, the Huskies fell to Irvington High School, 53-38, in a Class B regional semifinal at SUNY Paltz.
The Bulldogs, an older and more experienced team, erased a halftime deficit and dominated the second half.
“We had a chance, but we just kind of fell apart,” sophomore Bri Rozzi said. “But the good thing is, this is just the start for us. This season gives us confidence to believe we’ll be right back next year.”
Those “We’ll get ‘em next year” declarations are often said in a perfunctory manner, a consolation statement following a crushing loss. But in this case, it’s more of a projection.
The Huskies (16-6) have only one senior, Taylor Farino, and will return all their core. This run, which coach Jim Malak has admitted came a year sooner than he expected, was spearheaded by sophomores and juniors.
“A lot of these other teams will be graduating their star players,” McCutcheon said. “We’ll have almost the entire team back and we’ll be working hard to improve all summer. We can definitely get better.”
Irvington, which lost in this round to Marlboro last season, advances face Mattituck of Section 11 in a regional final on Thursday at SUNY Old Westbury on Long Island.
Rozzi had 13 points, three assists, two steals and a block for Highland. Jayda Jackson added 10 points, and McCutcheon had six points and three steals. Sam Garcia had four points and seven rebounds.
Rozzi’s layup gave the Huskies a 27-25 lead going into halftime, but the Bulldogs blitzed them in the third quarter. Irvington opened with a 6-0 spurt then ended the period with three baskets in 13 seconds.
Lindsay Halpin had steals and fast-break layups on two consecutive possessions, then Irvington stole the ensuing inbounds pass and sank another layup to make it a 42-30. Olivia Valdes scored 16 points to lead the Bulldogs (18-5). Her three-pointer from four feet behind the arc put them up 47-33 with 6:08 left in the fourth.
“They gave me everything they have and we have no regrets,” Malak said. “I think experiencing this atmosphere and this (opponent) will make us better. We’ll be OK.”
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4