TROY – Ossining head coach Dan Ricci trying to hold back his bench as the final seconds of Saturday’s Class AA state final ticked away was like trying to stop the running of the bulls with dental floss. Once the horn sounded, the string snapped.
Pride players rushed the court after closing out a 69-66 victory over Shenendehowa at Hudson Valley Community College, and an unprecedented fourth consecutive Class AA state title. An exuberant Ricci circled the floor as pandemonium ensued.
“This is the most exhilarating state championship we’ve ever had,” he said.
When the adrenaline subsided, Ricci and his players thanked fans with four fingers held up high in the air. Several Pride alumni gathered behind press row to thank Ricci, in tears, before being called onto the floor by their former coach.
The celebration was 32 minutes of anticipation exploding in an instant — an uncharacteristic display of emotion for a team that is synonymous with its stoic approach to battle and, as often follows, victory.
None embodied that trait more than senior Shadeen Samuels.
For a player who had three state championships, more than 1,700 career points, and a full scholarship to play Division I basketball entering Saturday, Samuels rarely ever showed emotion, in victory or defeat.
Midway through the third quarter, Samuels sank a 3-pointer near the top of the arc, then slammed her right arm down after the follow-through. Ossining still trailed at the time, but her reaction implied that the deficit would not last much longer.
“In practice, we knew that we were gonna have open 3s and we would just have to knock them down,” said Samuels, who had a team-high 26 points. “Seeing that what I did in practice worked in the game, it was just amazing.”
The Seton Hall-bound forward became the first player in the history of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association to win four state championships at the Class AA level and grabbed another tournament MVP plaque to go with her 2014 honor.
While Samuels and freshmen Aubrey Griffin (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Kailah Harris (12 points, 21 rebounds) made the majority of the noise, it was the Pride’s pint-sized point guard, freshman Jaida Strippoli, who helped close out the win. Strippoli sank a late 3-pointer and banked in the Pride’s final point on a free throw.
“I knew something was on our side when that went down,” Ricci said of the free throw.
The Pride (26-2) set a single-season wins record Saturday, eclipsing their 2014 mark, when there were no seniors on the team. Ossining advanced to the state Federation Tournament of Champions, which will be hosted at the Times Union Center in Albany next week.
The Pride, who have never won a Federation title, will play PSAL champion South Shore in the semifinals Friday at 3 p.m.