Briarcliff Edges the Wildcats in the Class B Quarterfinals

We are part of The Trust Project
Briarcliff’s Maddie Plank shoots the ball in the Bears’ playoff win over Westlake.

As he stood along the sideline in the final minutes of last Wednesday’s Section 1, Class B quarterfinal playoff game against visiting Westlake, Briarcliff girls’ basketball coach Don Hamlin was undoubtedly having flashbacks to last year when his young Bears team wilted under the pressure of trying to reach the Westchester County Center.

“We got knocked out in the same round last year, a 2-7 game, a close, back and forth game,” he would say later, recalling the disappointing loss to lower-seeded Putnam Valley. “And I thought we shrunk during that game.”

This time, just when it seemed the Bears might be headed for the same unfortunate fate, they found a way to sneak past the upset-minded Wildcats. Alana Lombardi and Kacey Hamlin each collected key offensive rebounds in the final minute and Maddie Plank made a clinching free throw with 5.6 seconds remaining as the Bears defeated Westlake 53-49, advancing to a semifinal showdown with Valhalla at the County Center.

“I thought in this game we just kept making plays,” said Hamlin after his second-seeded team had managed to hang on in a game it once led by 12 points. “I don’t know, we kept our heads up, fighting. So it was a nice change.”

Lombardi, a freshman, finished with a team-high 19 points, while sophomores Plank and Hamlin combined for 26 more to help Briarcliff withstand a magnificent effort by the Wildcats’ Natalie Alfieri, who scored 11 of her game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter and nearly brought Westlake back to the County Center with her ability to get to the basket.

“Natalie was just tremendous,” Wildcats coach Sean Mayer said. “She took over the game. But they have a lot of weapons and I couldn’t be prouder of the seventh seed going in here and giving them the game we did. The girls, they played their hearts out. I know that’s a term people use a lot, but we did play our hearts out and we left it all out there.”

Lombardi and Hamlin each scored five points in the opening quarter and Briarcliff grabbed a 13-11 lead. A 3-pointer by Jamie Perfito, who made four of them and finished with 12 points, with 5:27 left in the half gave Westlake its final lead of the afternoon, 19-18. The Bears answered with a 10-0 spurt, starting with Jackie Contento’s 15-foot baseline jumper and ending with Plank’s conventional 3-point play.

But the half closed with Alfieri’s old-fashioned 3-point play on a drive through the lane and a bucket by teammate Viktoria Hudd a minute later that cut the Bears’ lead to 28-24 at intermission. The second half began with Hamlin connecting on a 3-pointer, then Contento scoring four straight points as Briarcliff took its first double-digit lead.

The Bears built their largest advantage, 39-27, when Plank made a 3-pointer from right of the key with 1:35 left in the third quarter. But just nine seconds later, she was whistled for her fourth foul and the complexion of the game immediately changed. Westlake closed the period with six straight points, moving to within six when Sofia Catarino drove the right baseline for a basket with 15 seconds on the clock.

Westlake’s run became an extended 13-1 spurt with a 7-1 start to the fourth quarter. Catarino’s drive for a layup with 5:55 left tied the game at 40 apiece. Just 15 seconds later, though, a long Hamlin 3-pointer from the left elbow gave Briarcliff the lead back for good.

“Where Kacey hit the 3 from, it was way out there,” said the Wildcats’ Mayer. “She hit a big shot. But even with that, we were still only down three.”

Westlake was hardly finished, especially with Alfieri tormenting the Bears’ defense in her varsity finale with her crossover dribbling. Three times she penetrated to the basket and finished for layups with her left hand, the final one cutting the Bears’ lead to 50-49 with 24.8 seconds remaining.

“She was amazing,” said Hamlin, praising a player he’s coached against for the past five years. “I thought she was as tough as I’ve ever seen her. She played great. We tried to keep her in front, she’s really good.”

But the Westlake comeback bid stalled when Plank hit the first of two foul shots with 19.3 seconds left, then missed and Hamlin made a diving save of the rebound along the baseline. Lombardi added a free throw with 12.9 seconds left to give Briarcliff a 52-49 edge and set the stage for the Wildcats’ last big chance.

It came when Perfito got the ball in the right corner and launched a potential game-tying 3-pointer. Her attempt was on line, but sailed over the rim and, moments later, Plank made one of two foul shots to clinch the Briarcliff victory.

“It looked to me like she rushed it a little bit,” said Hamlin of the shot by Perfito. “When they’re set and they take their time, they’re really good shooting the ball. I thought she rushed that a little bit. I was pretty sure it was not gonna go.”

“It was a great shot,” said Mayer. “A great shot. You know what, Jamie, she’s a great shooter. We executed that play and it was right there. It didn’t go in. We executed and it was one of those things where we came up a little short. I told the girls, ‘You leave this locker room with your heads held high. Briarcliff, they’re a great team, and you pushed them right to the limit.’”

So now the Bears move on to face Valhalla down in White Plains and coach Hamlin doesn’t have to worry about flashbacks in the future.

“I thought that was a big monkey on our back last year when the thought of going to the County Center as freshmen and eighth graders was big for them,” he said. “But they grew up from that. They’re gonna get a chance to go and play. Hopefully they play well.”

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.