Briarcliff Extends Winning Streak by Beating the Bobcats

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Coach Don Hamlin admits he can’t always tell whether his Briarcliff girls’ basketball team is winning or losing without glancing up at the scoreboard.

Briarcliff's Cassidy Carrafiello dribbles around Ashley Polera of Byram Hills in last Friday's game. Photo by Andy Jacobs
Briarcliff’s Cassidy Carrafiello dribbles around Ashley Polera of Byram Hills in last Friday’s game. Photo by Andy Jacobs

“Sometimes I watch us play,” he was saying on Friday night, “and when we’re up like 10 or 12 we play like we’re down 10 or 12.”

One of those occasions occurred just a bit earlier that evening when the Bears took their coach on a roller coaster ride against visiting Byram Hills. They surged to big leads in three different quarters, only to let the Bobcats climb back each time, before finally emerging with a 51-42 victory. Sophomore guard Cassidy Carrafiello scored 24 points as the suddenly red-hot Bears won their fourth straight game.

It was Carrafiello who made back-to-back 3-pointers from the left corner to open up the fourth quarter, giving Briarcliff a 39-22 cushion and seemingly ending whatever drama still remained. But as they did twice earlier in the contest, the Bobcats fought back from the huge deficit, going on a 10-2 run that kept the outcome in doubt a little bit longer.

“We never go away,” said Byram Hills first-year coach Mary Kate Burke afterwards. “Almost all of our games have been fairly close.  Even when a team gets a big lead, we never give up and that’s one thing, even though our record doesn’t show that, I love that these girls have so much heart. They wanna win and they’ll do anything to try to come back and chip away and hustle.”

That was apparent in the opening quarter and again in the third as the Bobcats twice sliced into big deficits. In the first period, the Bears’ Summer Horowitz made a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Briarcliff a 14-4 lead  before the Bobcats closed the quarter with a 3-pointer by Raquel Gaudio and then a short jumper by Ashley Polera.

In the third quarter, the Bears used a 9-3 run to extend their 22-12 halftime lead to 16 points. But the Bobcats’ Lucy Bancone began a 7-0 response from Byram Hills with a pair of free throws. Lina Villani followed with successive layups and Polera soon added a foul shot. Despite a bucket by the Bears’ Marissa Contento just before the buzzer, the Bobcats were still within 11 points heading to the final quarter.

“I felt like every time we took Summer out of the game, we just kind of lost confidence,” said Hamlin about Horowitz, his senior center and the team’s lone inside presence following the season-ending knee injury to Brianna Celaj. “When she’s on the floor, we know she’s rebounding the ball, we know we can get out and run. But we’ve got to get better. When she’s out, we have to play better.”

Still, the Bears seemed to be well on their way to their ninth win in 12 games when Carrafiello, who had 11 of her points in the final quarter, made consecutive treys from virtually the same spot on the court. Tiffany Panarese, who had five buckets in the second half to finish with 12 points, soon followed with a fastbreak layup and Briarcliff held a 41-23 lead with time dwindling on the Bobcats.

But Bancone, limited to a meager two free throws over the first three quarters by the special defense she was facing, made a steal and went coast to coast for a layup. Fouled on the play, she converted the free throw and the Bobcats were on their way to another comeback bid.

Gaudio made the front end of a 1-and-1 30 seconds later, then Bancone quickly added a 3-pointer from the top of the key. The 9-0 burst ended with an 18-foot jumper by Gaudio, who led Byram  with 14 points.  The Bobcats were back within nine points with 4:27 still remaining on the clock.

“What was going through my mind there,” said Hamlin, “was we just need to calm down and continue to hit the open man. I felt like, for that couple minutes that they got a 9-0 run, that we just started rushing everything. And to their credit, they knocked down some good shots.”

A layup by Panarese on a pass over the top of the Bobcat full-court press restored the Bears’ double-digit lead and started a 5-0 burst. Even five quick points later on by Gaudio hardly mattered.  The Bobcats still trailed by nine points and there were just 55 seconds remaining. Carrafiello made five foul shots over a 17-second span to clinch the Bears’ victory.

“Our whole thing has been to try to get these guys to play with some confidence and to know that they’re pretty good basketball players,” said Hamlin. “And different people stepped up at different times tonight, so that was good to see. Hopefully we’re turning the corner and play with a little more confidence when we’re leading.”

“We were trying to stick with them, but their 3-pointers were just killing us,” said the Bobcats’ Burke, who once upon a time was an assistant to Hamlin at Briarcliff and still coaches soccer there, working closely with several of the Bears who had just faced her on the hardwood.

“I had been Don’s assistant, so it’s kind of funny because I recognize some of his plays from the past,” she said. “So I knew kind of what they were gonna do, but it doesn’t mean that you can shut down the play. It was fun, but, definitely, you don’t wanna lose to Don. I would’ve liked to win, just for fun.”

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