Ossining High had to sweat it out, had to do it the hard way, and why not?
As Pride coach Dan Ricci said, they don’t give away state championships. And he knows.
Ossining beat Section 11’s Sachem East 66-58 Friday in the Class AA girls basketball state semifinals at Hudson Valley Community College. Ossining will play Section 5’s Gates-Chili, which defeated defending champ Cicero-North Syracuse in the other semifinal, Saturday night at 8:45 for the championship.
Sachem East double- and triple-teamed Saniya Chong, holding the Section 1 scoring record-holder to six points in the first half, as Ossining shot 9 for 34. But Chong had 21 of Ossining’s 41 second-half points (including 12 of 13 free throws), and the Pride got huge contributions from sophomore Jalay Knowles (14 points, 12 rebounds), and a pair of critical 3-point shots each from Kathryn Polletta and Alexandra Cristello. Chong had eight rebounds, seven steals, four assists and a blocked shot.
She is 72 points shy of 3,000 with only today’s title game and a potential Federation championship game (Ossining would have a semifinal bye) next week remaining. The state crown is the only hole on her resume.
“It would mean everything to me,” Chong said. “It would be an unbelievable feeling to actually win a state championship, not just for me but for the other nine seniors.
“I think it is, personally, something that I need because nobody in this school’s ever won one. It would be amazing.”
Ricci, who passed 350 career wins this season, has been to the title game once, in 2004, but never won it all.
In Chong’s freshman year, Ossining went to the section final. In her sophomore year, it won the title and lost in the regionals. Last year it won another gold ball and lost in the state semifinals to Cicero-North Syracuse and 6-foot-5 Breanna Stewart, Chong’s UConn teammate next season who was in attendance Friday night.
“Baby steps,” Ricci said.
“(Winning a state title) means a lot. It’s not going to take away from Saniya’s career (if she doesn’t). She’s been phenomenal. But we’d love for her to walk out a state champion.”
He pointed out that no Section 1 girls basketball team has won a AA state title, though teams have won an A title in seasons when A was the largest classification — the last being Ursuline in 2000.
“It (would) be more of a relief to me,” he said. “To them it’s a celebration; they’re kids. They’re only here for three or four years. They just want to win. For me it’s been a long haul, trying to get this for a long time. Hopefully we can pull it off.”
Ossining showed that this may not be the last chance with all of its skilled underclassmen, and new depth.
“Last year we wouldn’t have won this game,” Ricci said. “We were all Saniya. We’re not all Saniya anymore.”
Knowles doesn’t want this chance to go by.
“I’m young and I don’t fully understand everything, but I want to win because it would be so great to be a part of that early,” she said.
“Coach Ricci’s going to probably end up crying if we win a state championship, I’m telling you. And I know it’s going to mean a lot for Saniya … and I want to get it for them.”