Rice Memorial’s bid for a three-peat remains alive after a 51-41 victory over Essex in a Division I high school girls basketball semifinal Thursday night at Patrick Gymnasium.
The two-time defending champions will face Champlain Valley in the title game Monday night at Patrick Gym, the third straight year the two schools will meet in the final.
Cassidy Derda tallied 17 points and 11 rebounds and Hailee Barron added 16 points for Rice (21-2).
The Green Knights had to overcome a slow start and a 16-10 deficit in the first quarter to win their 11th consecutive playoff game.
“We knew we were going to be OK,” Derda said. “We weren’t panicked. They were controlling the tempo in the first part of the game. I think once we got composed and started to focus, it was it was easy for us to get in a flow.”
Derda ignited Rice’s 9-0 run to start the second quarter to help the Green Knights erase a six-point deficit. The senior center dominated inside for eight points in the second quarter, some of that production coming with Essex standout forward Kara Sheftic on the bench with two fouls.
A physical, sometimes choppy, first half ended with Rice up 28-22.
Barron hit two key 3-pointers in the second half, the first coming 40 seconds after intermission create a 31-22 lead, the other to put the Green Knights up 39-31 with two minutes left in the third quarter.
“We just knew we had to get into our game, we had to play together,” Barron said. “Once we started playing together we made our shots.”
Lavalette finished with 14 points to pace the Hornets (17-6), who fell to Rice twice during the regular season.
“I think all along we knew we were one of the better teams. We beat everybody except for Rice and CVU,” Essex coach Shawn Montague said. “At some point it would have been nice to get over the hump with those two, but that’s the way it goes.
“The seniors we have are awesome kids. Whenever you come up short, you feel for them,” Montague said. “They are good kids and they worked so hard and put a lot of time in. You feel for them.”