With already-proven shooting skill and now-emerging ability off the dribble, it seemed just a matter of time before Byram Hills sophomore guard Beth Corelli would put all her talent on display out on the basketball floor.
The time finally arrived on Friday night, when the Bobcats hosted the John Jay Indians in the opening round of the Section 1, Class A playoffs. Drilling one line-drive jumper after another, Corelli erupted for 17 first-half points and finished with a team-high 25 as fifth-seeded Byram Hills ousted the 12th-seeded Indians 65-60.
“Yeah, Beth came alive tonight and we needed that,” said Bobcats head coach Tara Ryan after watching the scoring outburst from Corelli. “She literally carried us for the first couple of quarters. We’ve been waiting for a breakout game. This was a great offensive performance from her tonight.”
Corelli made seven shots from the field in the opening half, including a pair of 3-pointers, but the Bobcats still found themselves trailing 34-32 at intermission. When she went scoreless in the third quarter, Byram Hills got a big lift from backcourt mate Jen Mui, who provided 10 of her 15 points in the period, helping the Bobcats grab a 46-43 edge.
John Jay held its final lead of the evening when a bucket by star forward Kendall Miller put the Indians in front by a point with just 3:22 left on the clock. But the Bobcats closed the contest on an 8-2 run and will be the ones moving on to play at Harrison in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
“We didn’t walk into this game lightly at all,” said Ryan, aware that John Jay was now back at full health and had ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak. “We knew we had a 50-50 shot. We earned the five seed, so we were happy that we had the home game against them.”
The Bobcats, 15-5 in the regular season, jumped out to a 5-2 lead less than two minutes after the opening jump following a 3-pointer from Corelli and a basket by Stefana Latella. But the Indians, sparked by Miller, the lanky senior who finished with 28 points, then went on a 10-2 run and never trailed again until a bucket by Corelli gave the Bobcats a 30-29 lead with just under a minute left in the half.
A buzzer-beating layup by Kelly Nolan put John Jay ahead by two points at halftime, then a Miller basket 40 seconds into the second half left Byram behind 36-32. Mui, with just three points at the half, then went on a personal 8-0 run that included an old-fashioned 3-point play and a trey from the right elbow. With two and a half minutes left in the quarter, the versatile Miller connected on an 18-foot jumper that gave John Jay a 43-41 edge.
“She was definitely unique in the sense that she’s just so athletic,” said Ryan about the many matchup problems posed by Miller all night. “When she catches the ball, it’s more like she has guard skills but happens to be 6-2. She’s a very, very good player.”
Still, in the final 90 seconds of the third quarter, the Bobcats got a conventional 3-point play from eighth-grader Grace Corelli and a put-back basket by Mui and began the final period with a 46-43 advantage. Latella, who scored six of her 10 points in the fourth quarter, had consecutive layups that gave Byram a 50-47 lead with 6:30 to go.
But a 6-0 John Jay run left the Bobcats trailing 56-53 with just 4:34 remaining in the game. That’s when Beth Corelli, scoreless until then in the second half, once again made a big impact on the contest. She drilled a 17-footer from the right baseline, then followed it up by going one on one before draining a pullup jumper from the top of the key.
Miller’s final basket of the night gave John Jay the lead again, 58-57, before Corelli answered once more, connecting on another baseline jumper 15 seconds later that gave the Bobcats the lead for good. With 2:40 to go, Latella scored on a key put-back and Byram iced the game with a pair of free throws by Corelli with 1:37 left and Mui just over a minute later.
The Indians’ last gasp came with 10 seconds remaining as Mui blocked a 3-point try by Nolan in the right corner. Byram finished the game with its largest lead all evening.
“I think that’s what it’s gonna be like in the rest of the games,” said Ryan, whose Bobcats are now just one victory away from a berth at the Westchester County Center. “There’s nothing that’s gonna be easy and it’s really just which team executes better that day. Today that was us, and we’re very fortunate to be moving on to play a league rival who we’ve gone 1-1 with. So we’re excited to play Harrison.”