NEWBURGH – For as much as had gone wrong and as poorly as Red Hook played during stretches of this game, the waning seconds offered an opportunity to continue what had been a magical season.
The blunders of the previous possessions didn’t matter as the ball took flight from the left wing. A crammed and rollicking gymnasium suddenly went silent as Kalie Harrison released the shot. And for a second, the Raiders had hope.
“’Please go in! Please go in!’” Jessica Wilkinson said of her Sunday evening prayer. “That’s all you’re thinking.”
The ball hit the backboard and deflected onto the rim, but it rolled off as time expired.
So ended the Red Hook girls basketball season as top-seeded Cornwall High School won a nail-biter, 37-34, to capture the Section 9 Class A championship at Mount St. Mary College.
Cornwall, which had lost in each of the previous five section finals, finally cleared its hurdle. And for the second-seeded Raiders, there was heartbreak.
“To be honest, this (stinks),” senior Alexa Francheschi said. “We thought we could handle them and we just didn’t play well.”
Excluding a few stretches, particularly in a roaring third quarter, her assessment was accurate. Still, Red Hook had a chance to tie the score at the end with the ball in the hands of a clutch shooter. And it almost happened.
That the Raiders came so close — and that so many of their fans believed — was a testament to what this team had exhibited all season.
Red Hook (19-4) won its league, reached milestones, dominated for portions of the season and had its share of dramatic victories. In fact, it was a Harrison three-pointer that won the Mid-Hudson Athletic League semifinal last month before the Raiders went on to win that title for the first time since 2007.
“They have given me so many reasons to be proud,” coach Andrew Makebish said. “We struggled in this game, but looking back on the season as a whole, we have to be pleased.”
Wilkinson, who earlier this season topped 1,500 career points and set the program scoring record, had 11 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Francheschi added 10 points and 10 rebounds, and Harrison had three points and three steals.
Maggie Malone scored 17 points for Cornwall, which faces Vestal of Section 4 in a regional semifinal on Wednesday at SUNY New Paltz.
Red Hook last won the title in 2012, beating Cornwall.
“This is amazing,” Cornwall’s Samantha Incognoli said. “We’ve waited a long time for this and we just believed this was the year we’d finally make it happen in the final.”
Red Hook had a number of offensive droughts and fell behind 20-12 early in the third quarter. But the Raiders surged late in the period. Perimeter pressure led to turnovers, and Red Hook capitalized.
“We put up a fight and gave ourselves a chance,” Wilkinson said. “We can keep our heads up.”
Wilkinson’s steal and fast-break layup at 1:56 gave them a 26-25 lead — their first since 2:53 of the first quarter. Syr Esposito (four points) hit a jumper that pushed it to 29-25 at the end of the third.
Malone’s free throws retook the lead for Cornwall at 33-32 with 3:38 remaining, then she hit a layup a minute later. Francheschi’s put-back pulled Red Hook within a point with 1:25 left, then Harrison got a steal. But the Raiders turned it over twice in the final minute, forcing them to foul to stop the clock.
The Dragons’ missed free throws to left the door ajar for Red Hook on its final possession with nine seconds left. But it wasn’t to be.
“There are a lot of little girls who’ve been at our games all season and they look at this team like superheroes,” Makebish said. “That won’t change.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4