Through early difficulties, high-quality recovery, a cover-the-eyes lapse into disarray and return to sound basketball when it mattered, Maine-Endwell’s meandering path wound to the Class A state title game.
The Spartans squandered a 15-point third-quarter lead only to put away Harborfields in the final quarter of a 53-46 victory Friday at Hudson Valley Community College.
Senior Becca Dewing — clearly bent on playing one more high school game — and freshman Daniella Dean scored 12 apiece for M-E (17-4), which will take on Troy (19-5) for the title at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s really amazing because, not that I didn’t expect to win or do well this year, it’s like unreal because nobody in our program has ever been this far before,” said junior Julie Yacovoni, who finished a critical 11-2 burst to make it a 48-36 M-E advantage with three minutes to play.
But Harborfields charged to within 48-42, only to have Dean — who’d misfired on four straight free throws — can five in succession over the closing half-minute.
“She missed 4-5 free throws in a row and asked, ‘How come they’re not going in?'” M-E coach Sonny Spera said. “I said, ‘Because you’re not thinking they’re going in. You were born to do this, step to the line and make some free throws.’ “
The ballgame unfolded oddly, unpredictably, with huge swings in momentum and execution the order of the afternoon.
Tenth-ranked Maine-Endwell plodded through the final 53/4 minutes of the first quarter without a field goal, yet trailed by a mere 9-4 to start the second.
The Spartans then got field goals from five players in an 18-5 second quarter, and denied their Suffolk County foe a goal until 42 seconds remained before halftime.
Early on, Daniella Dean slipped backdoor and converted big sister Victoria’s feed, Victoria hit two free throws, Yacovoni finished on the block courtesy of Victoria’s entry, and Dewing bagged consecutive 3-pointers — first off a baseline inbound play, then thanks to Yacovoni’s hustle to save a free ball headed over the end line.
Oh, just for kicks, Dewing found time to draw a charge on Tornado ace Bridgit Ryan a bit after her long-rangers made it 16-9, and then Victoria scored in transition off a turnover and it was 18-9.
“Huge!” was how Spera summed up Dewing’s game-long efforts. “She wasn’t feeling well in our previous game, I didn’t know that. Today she still had the sniffles but she was dialed in.
“She played great defense on (forward Kristen Kelly) who’s excellent in the post for them. She’s giving up some size and she’s giving up some girth but she did all she could to keep her off the boards and did a pretty good job of that.”
An alert put-back by Katie Kerila capped first-half scoring and left M-E a 22-14 advantage. Harborfields was denied a field goal for better than 91/2 minutes before Amy Werbitsky struck from the elbow 42 seconds before halftime.
A 14-point first-half yield, impressive against any opponent, was even more so against the Tornado and dynamic 5-foot-11 point guard Ryan — labeled by her coach post-game as “The best player in Suffolk County.”
Ryan closed with 10 points, and as impressive from an M-E perspective was that she was rationed a scant nine field goal attempts. Victoria Dean and Brianna Ciganek were her primary harassers on the perimeter, but ample help awaited when Ryan freed up.
“She comes off a lot of screens for shots,” Spera said. “What we were trying to do was switch those screens and make those passes either difficult or disrupt the timing of it or get her farther out. I thought we did a pretty nice job there. We got beat off the dribble a couple times, but she’s that good a player.”
A 3-pointer from the corner by Dewing and Yacovoni’s put-back off a four-on-one fast break opened and closed a succession of 10 M-E points early in the third quarter. It was a 32-17 spread 31/2 minutes into the third, and the Spartans appeared to have every right to peek ahead.
But then …
“We turned the ball over, we made some transition mistakes early, they got some easy buckets off of that, and I thought they also rebounded better,” Spera said of an overwhelming stretch of play by Harborfields that tied the game at 34-34 in the closing minute of the third quarter.
“I think we just lost focus a little and we had to get back to what we normally do, get back to our game plan,” Yacovoni said.
And so they did, beginning with 3-pointer cashed by Daniella Dean, virtually dared by the defense to let fly from in front of M-E’s bench for a 37-34 advantage to close the third.
From there, it was about team basketball for the Spartans — their modus operandi, to be sure.
Their first 10 points of the fourth were rationed two-apiece among five contributors.
Carla Spera converted a short one from Dewings’s set-up … Victoria Dean and Martine Bosch each hit two from the line … Dewing bagged her fourth 3-pointer in six tries … And Yacovoni finished inside after accepting a well-placed bounce feed from Dewing.
“Becca was big tonight. She defended great, rebounded her tail off and hit some big baskets for us,” Spera said.
It was a 48-36 advantage, and to come was the youngest of the Spartans to atone for previous shortcomings from 15 feet to lock up the title-game berth.
That left M-E to leisurely absorb the second semifinal before heading off to an eatery of their coach’s choosing for fine Italian cuisine. Then?
“We’re happy, but I think most importantly, you have to act like you belong,” Spera said. “That’s probably the biggest thing, I say, act like you’ve been here.”
When reminded that, in truth, his girls haven’t been this far, he added with a smile: “I know, but they should act like they have — fake it to make it.”