WHITE PLAINS – The horn has sounded, the court has been stormed, and the gold ball has been raised. At last, Dennis Hurlie can smile.
Rye had made back-to-back trips to the Westchester County Center for the Section 1 Class A championships the last two years, leaving with nothing but a semifinal loss each time.
In their third consecutive trip to “Westchester’s Most Famous Arena,” the Garnets left Sunday with the gold ball they came for, a whole lot of hardware, and even the game ball from 63-47 win over top-seeded Ursuline.
“I told the girls, ‘Only a few teams get to do this each year,’” Hurlie said of reaching the County Center. “It’s like a reward for all the hard work they put in. If you lose early, this doesn’t define you, but when a great group of kids like that gets to celebrate and hoist the gold ball and be queens for a day or a week, that’s pretty cool.”
Hurlie said that, following the tradition that comes with winning the Stanley Cup in the National Hockey League, all 12 members of the Garnets’ girls basketball team will get to keep the gold ball for 24 hours. Hurlie said he will start with seniors and work his way down.
Senior captain Maddie Eck, who was named to the all-tournament team, is scheduled to receive the ball early Monday morning.
While all of the Rye girls basketball team members will get to own the gold ball for a day, one Garnet will get to keep a ball from Sunday’s championship forever.
Junior Katie Popp scored her 1,000th career point on a free throw in the fourth quarter, joining Eck, who scored her milestone point earlier this season. Section 1 coordinator Steve Young presented Popp with the game ball during the awards ceremony, a rarity at the tournament.
Popp was later named the tournament’s MVP.
“It was a feeling of euphoria. I’ve never felt like that before — it’s the best feeling in the world,” Popp said of raising the gold ball. “This is one of the best days of my life.”
Rye will return to the County Center on Tuesday for the state regional finals against the Section 9 champion at 6 p.m.
Ursuline beat Rye earlier this year in a nail-biting 54-53 finish, a game Hurlie and the Garnets did not soon forget. Hurlie said getting the Koalas in the final was an added bonus to the win, but not for any ill-intentioned reasons.
“Revenge is a silly thing, but I think it was nice to be able to play them,” he said. “I think we matched up well with them. The girls were excited, they bought into what we were going to — and it wasn’t much different — but they stuck to the game plan.
“We have Katie Popp, and we have Maddie Eck, and we’ve got a chance to win.”