By Danny Lopriore
Maggie Walsh took a pass just to the right of the basket and quickly flipped in a layup with seconds remaining in the game, lifting visiting Byram Hills to a thrilling 44-43 victory over Horace Greeley last Tuesday.
The basket by Walsh, who scored a game-high 15 points, completed a furious comeback that saw the Bobcats use a pressing defense and timely long-range shooting to erase a 34-24 deficit going into the fourth quarter. Her layup came with three seconds remaining in the game.
Walsh gave the defense credit and attributed the winning basket to the passer, Sophia Villani, whose look inside found her teammate.
“We practice that play all the time, so I knew where the play was going. I got the ball right there (from Villani) where I was open,” Walsh said. “I think we stole the momentum in the fourth quarter and made so many big plays and big shots. It was a good win, especially after being behind all game.”
The Bobcats opened the season with two wins and now have a lot of momentum as the calendar year comes to a close. Coach Tara Ryan was impressed with her team’s ability to hang in despite being down most of the game.
“Greeley has great size and we tried the drive in, but didn’t get much and were hesitant,” Ryan said. “When we went outside, we forced some shots. We don’t have a million things on offense, so we needed the pressure defense to get us back into the game.”
The Quakers (2-2) scored first and opened a solid 12-5 lead using a strong half-court defense, good rebounding and strong inside scoring led by Safia Gecaj, who had four points and four rebounds in the first quarter. The home team extended its lead to 24-14 at halftime, limiting the Bobcats’ outside shooting game.
Quakers coach Sarah Schum said her team was prepared well, but let the game slip away.
“We scout other teams well,” Schum said. “We had a game plan and shocked them a little, knowing where they were going to be on offense. We did everything well until we lightened up a little and it cost us.”
Behind by 10 points headed into the fourth quarter, the Bobcats finally found room to shoot on the perimeter. Beth Corelli and Gabrielle Ripka hit back-to-back 3s to slice the Quakers’ lead to 34-30. The teams traded baskets until Jennifer Mui hit two free throws to give the Bobcats a 38-37 lead with three minutes left in the game. Mui finished with eight points and Ripka six for the winners.
“Once we get a few shots in, the ball starts rolling and we got that positive energy going,” Ripka said. “I don’t think anyone can stop that kind of offense if we make our shots. Our defense leads our offense and we got back in the game with a press and some steals. We try to be aggressive, call out where the ball is and that adds pressure. We haven’t used the press like that this year. It worked well.”
Brianna Gadaleta, who spent most of the game battling Walsh on the inside, led the Quakers with 14 points, including a long 3-point shot that cut the Bobcats’ lead to 41-40 in the final minute of play.
Kat Genda added a 3-pointer to give Greeley a 43-42 edge with 44 seconds to play before Walsh hit the game winner.
Schum said the defensive lapses gave Byram Hills an opening.
“Their press didn’t really change things, but we got away from our personal defensive game plan a little bit on two possessions that gave them six quick points,” Schum said. Instead of putting on the gas and making a 10-point lead a 15-point lead, we stalled. We got a little freaked out, but give Byram credit. They were super aggressive in the fourth quarter and we let it get away.”
Ryan, meanwhile, was relieved to get the big road win.
“Games like this turn on a lot of things, players sub in with a different view and make shots or we change a defense that can change things,” she said. “Tonight, we were lucky enough to have things go our way. We did the things we’ve practiced doing and we can learn from how we didn’t let up and played hard all the way to get the win.”
Schum predicted the loss would motivate her team, which got nine points and 10 rebounds from Gecaj and eight points from Genda, including two 3-pointers.
“These are some of the hardest working girls in Section One and we coach them hard,” Schum said. “I tell them we don’t have the skills to not play defense and not box out and they buy into it. What we lack in skills, we make up in hard work. We’ll bounce back, I guarantee that.”