From seriously unpleasant beginnings, Maine-Endwell’s girls emerged Saturday with the most impressive of victories –and a coveted berth in Class A state basketball semifinals.
Four players scored eight or more points and every darn one defended in cohesively championship fashion on the way to a 62-58 win over an exceptionally talented Wallkill squad at Binghamton High.
Up next is a trip to Hudson Valley Community College in Troy to play a semifinal scheduled for 1:30 Friday against Harborfields High from Greenlawn (Suffolk County).
The Spartans let a nine-point, third-quarter lead evaporate and were locked up in a stalemate in the final minute. They took the lead for good when Victoria Dean alertly fed Martine Bosch for a goal from the wing and a 57-55 advantage with 35 seconds remaining.
Wallkill failed on a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left, and M-E’s Dean sisters — junior Victoria and freshman Daniella — teamed for 4-for-5 accuracy from the line through the finish.
Julie Yacovoni closed with 18 points, Daniella 15, Victoria 14 and Bosch eight for M-E, which early on ran the risk of being run out of the building by one of the most-skilled opponents the Spartans have ever encountered.
M-E committed a charging foul off the opening tip, had two shots fail to scare iron in the opening minute, and gaped up from 11-2 and 14-5 deficits over the opening 31/2 minutes.
What, M-E worry?
“We know that if we get down to keep fighting. We’re always ready for a good fight,” Victoria said.
“I think what flipped it around was that we executed on offense,” coach Sonny Spera said. “We took our time, we were a little more patient. We didn’t rush shots and rush possessions like I thought we did early.”
And gradually, maybe even a tad surprisingly, the Spartans gained the upper hand.
They rattled off 10 consecutive points to exit the first quarter with a 15-14 lead. Junior forward Yacovoni started the surge by beating her defender with a post move, and Daniella finished with a fast-break bucket.
M-E turned to the long ball in the second quarter and led by as many as nine. Yacovoni accepted Victoria’s baseline inbound and converted for a 25-19 lead, and came back 40 seconds later with one of her ceiling-scrapers for a 3-pointer from the wing to make it 28-19.
Lisa Bouffard, Wallkill’s 5-foot-11 do-it-all, finished first-half scoring by snaring a 3-point airball and putting it back to draw the Panthers within 30-24.
Back M-E’s lead went to nine on the strength of a transition goal by Victoria, Bosch’s 15-footer from Daniella’s assist, and a free throw by Victoria — who’d drawn Bouffard’s third foul.
Thing was, the team with a single senior started acting its age and forgot the cerebral approach on which those nine-point advantages were built.
“We completely abandoned our offense, took some quick shots, they got some scores and it’s a tie game at the end of the third quarter — it’s pandemonium,” said Spera, who in truth might have gleefully accepted pre-game a tie through 24 minutes based on what his scouting mission uncovered.
From there, it was scratch-and-claw — wonderfully entertaining from court-side, extraordinarily pressure-packed between the boundaries.
Daniella successfully followed her own miss –the fourth crack of that M-E possession — and tacked on a free throw for a 47-43 lead 1:06 into the fourth. Wallkill again pulled even on a pair from the line by Rachel Simon to make it 53-53 with 2:51 left.
Daniella’s end-to-end rush with the ball brought two successful free throws with 2:01 left, but Wallkill was even again when Bouffard cashed from the baseline to make it 55-55 with 67 seconds remaining.
The go-ahead goal was largely the doing of Victoria, who rubbed her defender off a screen high on the left wing, darted on the dribble to the rim — only to reach the block and direct a heady cross-courter to an available Bosch on the wing.
Those not present may see M-E’s 58-point defensive yield to be nothing special. Those who were understand that defense was a large part of the difference, given Wallkill’s personnel and penchant to push the ball relentlessly.
Victoria broke down the formula: “We pressure the ball a lot, we need a lot of help-side, we front the post. We know that if we have good ball pressure and stay in passing lanes that we can get a lot of steals and get in transition.”
Spera said: “I think the one thing we tried to do is tire them out a little bit, come at them 84 feet for 32 minutes. I think we were successful with that. That’s a very good team, but they don’t go deep into their bench. They typically play seven.
“Our feeling was, try to keep their guards in front of us, make them work and maybe get into their legs in the second half and see if we can make some plays.”