An inability to grab rebounds, coupled with the stellar play of Hastings star forward Paige Martin, proved to be too much for the Briarcliff girls’ basketball team to overcome on Saturday afternoon.
Martin finished with a game-high 32 points and the Yellow Jackets overwhelmed Briarcliff on the offensive glass en route to a convincing 64-40 victory in the championship game of the Bears’ 2021 Booster Club Basketball Tournament.
“You know, we can’t rebound, we can’t rebound,” said Bears head coach Denise Hamlin afterwards. “That was the whole game. They went on their big run when we couldn’t box out or rebound, and then we couldn’t gain our composure to come back.”
Before the Yellow Jackets took command of the game in the second quarter, the two teams battled back and forth over the first eight minutes. The lead changed hands six times and a short baseline jumper by Adrianna Scanga with 28 seconds remaining gave the Bears a 16-15 edge after one quarter.
A 3-pointer out of the left corner by the Yellow Jackets’ Caitlin Drozd to start the second period changed the lead for the seventh and final time. The game was tied for the only time all day a minute later when Briarcliff senior forward Eliza Aldrich connected on a 17-foot baseline jumper. But Hastings then proceeded to go on a 13-0 spurt that ended with put-back baskets from Alexandra Magaro and Luisa Scioscia and the Bears never recovered.
The Bears, trailing 31-22 at halftime, managed to cut their deficit to just six points after a drive for a basket by Cat Carrafiello with four minutes left in the third quarter, followed by a high-arching 3-point shot from Caroline Barbalato that just beat the shot clock with 3:23 left in the period.
Unfortunately for Briarcliff, the Yellow Jackets then closed the quarter on a 10-2 run, sparked by seven points from Martin, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player. When the fourth quarter began, the Bears found themselves trailing 48-34, with Barbalato seated on the bench with four fouls.
Martin made sure the Bears wouldn’t come close in the final quarter by scoring three early baskets, all of them inside, helping stretch the Hastings lead to 56-38.
“She’s a phenomenal player,” said Hamlin. “She works super hard, 12 months a year. We did the best we could against her. Paige is an awesome player, but they’ve got a nice surrounding cast, too.”
Briarcliff, which had opened the tournament by routing Dover on Thursday, was led by Carrafiello’s 15 points. Barbalato and Aldrich each chipped in with nine. But Carrafiello, who was named to the all-tournament team, left the game with four and a half minutes remaining after colliding with the Yellow Jackets’ Violet Bowen-Rink while trying to defend against a fast break.
She eventually emerged from the trainer’s room with her right knee taped, and Hamlin can only hope to see her back on the court soon, especially since the Bears are already playing this season without injured starting center Dylan Zednik, who was being counted on to form a ‘big three’ with the team’s quality junior guards.
“Losing Dylan hurts,” said Hamlin, who admits her team is currently a work in progress. “So we have a big hole to fill. And without her, it puts more pressure on them (Carrafiello and Barbalato). Hopefully, we’ll get somebody else to step up and do something, but it’s hard to expect when you’re playing against a Hastings.”
Andy is a sports editor at Examiner Media, covering seven high schools in the mid-Westchester region with a notebook and camera. He began there in the fall of 2007 following 15 years as a candid photographer for the largest school picture company in the tri-state area.