For the Horace Greeley girls’ basketball team, Saturday morning’s outbracket playoff game down at Harrison High School offered an opportunity to erase six weeks of hardwood frustration.
Instead, the Quakers were left with one last reminder of how elusive wins have been since the calendar turned to 2019.
The host Huskies used a 13-2 run late in the second quarter to take control and went on to a 50-37 victory over the 20th-seeded Quakers, whose disappointing season ended with a 6-15 record. Victoria Lendino scored a game-high 20 points as 13th-seeded Harrison advanced into Wednesday’s opening round of the Class A playoffs.
“I think every game on our schedule has been a winnable game, maybe with the exception of Pearl River,” said Quakers head coach Sarah Schum shortly after watching her team fall to the Huskies. “I think the other 20 games we’ve played have been right there. We’ve fought to win the game and we’ve been good enough to win the game. It’s a couple spurts here and there. It’s a couple bad possessions, a couple offensive rebounds. But they’ve been in every game and this is no different.”
The Quakers were led by seniors Brianna Gadaleta and Safia Gecaj, who scored 12 points apiece, and Michaela Santelia, who finished with nine. After the Huskies’ Lendino scored the game’s first points just over 90 seconds in, Greeley answered with three consecutive baskets — a fast-break spin through the lane by Santelia, a put-back by Gadaleta and a drive for a layup by Gecaj — to grab an early 6-2 lead.
Gecaj followed up her own miss to tie the score at 9-9 with 1:20 left in the first quarter, but junior guard Kat Genda nearly gave the Quakers a three-point lead with a half-court heave that narrowly missed as the buzzer sounded. Back-to-back baskets by Santelia to start the second quarter soon provided a 13-9 edge.
A pair of free throws by Gecaj with 4:24 remaining in the half moved Greeley to a 16-12 advantage, but the Huskies then went on a 7-0 burst, taking the lead for good on Lendino’s drive along the right baseline with 2:55 to go before halftime. After the Quakers’ Jesse Harris scored on a fast-break layup on a long pass over the Huskies’ full-court pressure, Harrison answered with a rare 4-point play by Ashley Stagg and then a layup from Olivia DeBald.
Two free throws by Gecaj with 22.6 seconds left ended the first-half scoring, but the Quakers still trailed 25-20 as they left the court. By the time Greeley would score again, on two free throws from Gadaleta with 4:44 remaining in the third quarter, the Huskies had built their lead to 12 points. A 3-pointer by Sam Andrews from the right corner, followed by an old-fashioned 3-point play by Lendino 30 seconds later, left the Quakers suddenly facing a double-digit deficit.
“I’m frustrated for them because they put in a lot of time and effort and energy and they try as best they can,” said Schum about her players. “I have a lot of multi-sport athletes that don’t play basketball year round and we’re playing against teams that do play basketball year round. So the skill level isn’t as high as some other teams are blessed with. But they work hard and they completely buy in, and when it’s basketball season they’re in basketball mode.”
Harrison only managed to score three points over the final five minutes of the third quarter. So when Gecaj made two free throws with 21 seconds left, the Huskies’ lead was whittled to just 34-27. A foul shot by Lendino with 2.9 seconds to go gave the hosts an eight-point margin heading to the final period.
Any chance though of a Greeley fourth-quarter comeback was halted by seven turnovers. The Quakers started the period 0-for-3 from the field and they turned the ball over on their other three possessions to begin the quarter. It took them until nearly the midway point to finally score, on a Gecaj layup, and by then Harrison had rebuilt its 12-point cushion.
Still, a bucket by Santelia with exactly three minutes remaining, followed by two free throws from Gadaleta 18 seconds later, brought the Quakers to within 43-35. But then a 3-point shot from the left elbow by the Huskies’ Tori Fernandez with 2:21 on the clock all but sealed the outcome. Greeley’s only points the rest of the way came on two Gadaleta foul shots with just 17.6 seconds left and Harrison ahead by 13.
“From watching film, I know they have shooters, and the girls know they have shooters,” said Schum after the Huskies had used a couple of timely treys in the final quarter to hold off the Quakers. “There were two distinct times where we got caught in the lane and we didn’t even go. It’s frustrating because that’s not like this team. They normally work so hard and they sprint everywhere. I don’t know if it was exhaustion. I don’t know if it was a little bit of a deflated attitude. But it’s tough to watch them almost give up in the lane.”
Schum isn’t quite sure why a season that began with five wins in eight games spiraled downward so quickly. The Quakers lost 10 straight games at one point and won just once since the end of December.
“I think we ran into a little bit of a snowball effect and had a bunch of losses in a row and it kind of mentally played with us a little bit,” she said. “I thought it was gonna be a bit of a different season, but you’ve gotta kind of roll with the punches. I just hope we can turn the corner. I think we will. I’m excited moving forward.”