WHITE PLAINS – When Briarcliff won its Class B quarterfinal a year ago, the players celebrated like they were champions. Not only were they muted upon advancing to the County Center a year later, the Bears remained subdued Wednesday night in the wake of winning their championship-game rematch with Woodlands.
The game they really want now awaits.
Briarcliff, the No. 1 seed, earned a return trip to the final by beating two-time defending champ Woodlands 65-56 in the Class B semifinals at the County Center. The Bears (22-1) won their 21st straight in the process and will now meet No. 2 Putnam Valley in a much-anticipated rematch on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The teams played Jan. 7 at Briarcliff in a game won 54-48 by the Bears. Neither team has lost since.
“You look at certain teams and know that if you’re able to get into the position we’re in now, you expect to see them,” Briarcliff coach Cody Moffett said. “They were one of the teams. We hope we can execute the game plan we want to play against them.”
After holding a 30-21 lead at halftime, Briarcliff started the third quarter quickly. Consecutive 3-pointers by Josiah Cobbs and Sean Crowley helped stake the Bears to a 16-point lead, but Woodlands didn’t fold. Paris Brown, Kyle Smith and Omar DeBarry combined to lead the Falcons back within four points at one point and within 48-43 after three quarters.
Woodlands (12-10) was within four points early in the fourth quarter, but Crowley’s defense inside and Jack Ryan’s poise at the line allowed Briarcliff to pull away. Ryan was fouled on a 3-point shot and hit all three free throws to give the Bears a 53-46 lead. The Falcons had brief moments, but never truly threatened again.
Brown scored a game-high 29 points for Woodlands, the No. 5 seed, which returned to the County Center despite an 0-5 start this season. The Falcons graduated all but one member of last year’s rotation (Smith), leaving them to rebuild after finishing as the state runner-up.
“I think for us it’s more about the future,” Woodlands coach Bob Murphy said. “We were going to play as hard as we can, but there are a number of kids on the floor who will return next year. It was a no-lose situation for us. We still have a lot to build on for next year.”
Player of the game: Jack Ryan, Briarcliff. With fellow guard Jack Reish drawing the bulk of Woodlands’ attention, Ryan took advantage. He scored 21 points on 6-of-8 shooting and hit 7 of 9 at the line, including 5 of 5 at the line in the fourth quarter.
“Reish has been a good player for a few years now, so if it means I get more open looks, great,” Ryan said. “Everyone has to score when they get the open looks.”
Stat line: Cobbs scored a team-high 22 and had eight rebounds. Crowley finished with eight points, 14 rebounds, four steals and four blocks and Reish had nine points and five assists. … Smith had nine points, five rebounds and three blocks and freshman Noe Fleurimond grabbed eight rebounds. DeBerry had seven points and six rebounds off the bench.
Quotable: “It feels good, but, after those 32 minutes, ask me again,” Moffett said on returning to the final.