Maybe it wasn’t quite in the blink of an eye, but the Briarcliff girls’ basketball team sure turned Saturday’s game with Valhalla into a rout in a big hurry.
With just over a minute to go in the first quarter, the teams were tied at 18 apiece before the Bears went on a 15-1 blitz to seize firm control on their way to a lopsided 75-42 victory over the Vikings in the championship final of the 14th annual Lt. Charles Garbarini Memorial Basketball Tournament at Pleasantville High School.
“I think we slowed ‘em down a little bit in the first quarter,” said Vikings coach Stephen Boyer after watching the Bears cruise past his team over the final three periods. “The second quarter, they started to just run up and down the floor. They’re very athletic, they can all shoot and they can score. It’s tough to defend.”
Alana Lombardi finished with a game-high 19 points to lead four Briarcliff starters in double figures, and Julia Barbalato, often overlooked in the Bears’ high-powered offense, dazzled by scoring 12 of her 14 points in the first quarter. Maddie Plank, playing just her second game since returning from a wrist injury, had 12 points.
“If we rebound the ball, we’re pretty good in transition,” said Bears coach Don Hamlin, whose team is now 9-1 this season. “I thought we gave up too many second shots in the first half. I didn’t think we did a very good job of boxing out, and we cleaned that up.”
Valhalla was still within 37-27 late in the first half after a layup by Sam Morillo, who led the Vikings with 15 points. But the Bears then proceeded to score 10 straight points to open up a 20-point lead and the outcome was never in doubt after that.
Two free throws by Kacey Hamlin started the burst, then Kaitlyn Ryan and Barbalato soon followed with jump shots. The run concluded with a drive through the lane by Lombardi with 41 seconds left in the half and, after a basket by the Vikings’ Morillo, the Bears took a 47-29 lead into the locker room.
“I thought both teams were playing well to start the game,” said coach Hamlin. “It was good back and forth.”
“I think we got a little gassed,” said the Vikings’ Boyer. “Then we got a little foul trouble. But they don’t stop. They’ve got so many weapons and that’s what their game is, to push the ball. When you play Briarcliff, besides playing defense, you’ve got to put the ball in the basket because they’re so capable of scoring 60, 70 points.”
The Bears, already leading by 18 points at intermission, poured it on in the third quarter, outscoring Valhalla by an 18-3 margin. Lombardi erupted for nine points over the final 3:15 of the period. Meanwhile, the Vikings’ first points of the quarter, on a basket by Sierra Lockhart, didn’t come until exactly four minutes remained.
“Obviously the three-headed monster with Lombardi, Hamlin and Maddie, it’s tough to defend,” said Boyer. “And the other two girls on their team, Barbalato and Jordan (Smith), they’re more than role players. They do a great job for them.”
The Vikings began the fourth quarter trailing by 33 points and never got any closer than 30 the rest of the way as both teams scored 10 points in the period. Eight of the Valhalla points came from the free-throw line, including three by guard Shelby Sekinski, who finished the day with 12 points. Briarcliff’s final three baskets of the game were all made by Julia Dalessandro.
For Hamlin, the win over Valhalla was another opportunity to get star guard Plank back in the swing of things. She made her return in last Wednesday’s 78-29 blowout win over Westlake at home in the tourney’s opening round, scoring 13 points, all in the third quarter.
“She just makes everything easier for everybody else,” he said. “She’s in control, she finds the open man, she puts us where we’re supposed to be defensively. Just makes things easier for the kids and for me, actually.”
According to Hamlin, as well as Plank played in her return, she’s not even close to her peak form yet, which he predicted “could be devastatingly good.” That should be just splendid news for the Vikings, whose reward for getting crushed by the Bears on Saturday is a rematch this week.
“We’re playing ‘em Wednesday,” said Boyer. “It’s a great challenge for us (the Viking coaches) and I think it’s a great challenge for the girls. So I can’t wait to get an opportunity. We’ll make some adjustments and we’ll try to stay up with that fast pace that Briarcliff does run.”