Putnam Valley Leaning on the Fly; Panas, Westlake Grooving

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By Tony Pinciaro

When PUTNAM VALLEY concluded its outstanding 2022-23 season, which included a Section 1 Class B title and New York State Class B runner-up finish, the Tigers knew huge changes were coming.

Lakeland senior Nichole Ljuljic, who has been instrumental in the program’s success the last few years, scored her 1,000th career point last Monday.

First, veteran coach Don Hamlin retired from his profession and in June, the Tigers would watch all-time leading scorer Eva DeChent and center Simone Gabriel graduate. As a result, Nai Torres knew what had to be done.

“The offseason was definitely more important than any other offseason,” Torres explained. “We utilized a lot of time getting the girls who came off the bench last year more used to playing with the ball in their hands and mostly building confidence to help us this season. It was a big help when the season started as far as practices went because they knew where to be during drills, and plays.”

The players were familiar with new coach Harrison Deegan so the transition was smoother than bringing in an outside coach.

“Knowing Coach Deegan from the previous seasons made it a lot easier,” Torres said. “He was always on the sidelines of practice or games helping us out looking for ways to get us better. We all knew he had our best interest in mind and was going to continue to look for ways and any strategies possible to help us not only win games but grow as a team and that’s exactly what he’s been doing this year.”

Even with the off-season work and familiarity with Deegan, Putnam Valley had a rough December. However, following the adjustment period, the Tigers caught fire.

Putnam Valley ran off an 11-game winning streak capped by a victory over Haldane giving the Tigers their ninth consecutive league title.

The Tigers, now 14-6, begin defense of their sectional title as the Section 1 Class B Championship commences later this week. Based on their surge, the Tigers are in the running for a top-four seed.

Briarcliff’s Ava Makaron rips for loose ball as Valhalla’s Cydney Waterman challenges in Bears’ 60-50 win over host Vikings last week.

“Going into the season we knew it would not be as easy winning games as it was last year,” Torres said. “Nothing was given and everything had to be earned. I just don’t think it clicked until a few games in.

“We struggled a lot with playing as one team and not a bunch of talented individuals. Our mindset had not changed from last year to this year and we did not fully understand that our team was much different. I think that played the biggest role in our rough start to the season.”

Torres said it was a loss to Woodlands that initiated her team’s run.

“After that game we all knew that each of us had to make a more conscious effort on both sides of the court,” Torres said. “As for me, that showed me that I need to be on the court in order to help my team have the best chance to win.”

Torres and Jona Kobashi also became more assertive offensively and this coincided with Putnam Valley’s run.

“Since the state-final game last year Jona and I knew we’d have to step up this year,” Torres said. “We worked a lot together in the gym getting shots up and we used this last AAU season learning how to play together in preparation for this season.”

Putnam Valley enters sectionals as the hottest team in Class B and can’t be underestimated. If opponents do this, the Tigers will be ready to pounce.

“We know exactly what we are capable of as a team and other teams overlooking us does nothing but fuel us more,” Torres said.

PANAS swept its final two games of the regular season 66-61 over Rye and 59-50 over Pelham.

Sydney Ingraham of Somers tries to dribble past Paige Schiliro of Byram Hills in last week’s 50-35 victory by the Bobcats over the visiting Tuskers.

In the Rye game, junior two guard Cadence Nicholas scored 22 points to become Panas’ all-time leading scorer, surpassing former standout Danielle Hood. Hood played at the University of Hartford and was drafted by the Atlanta Dream in the 2008 WNBA draft. She would later coach at Briarcliff.

“I am proud of it and I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” said Nicholas, who surpassed 1,500 points. “I just try to do whatever I can to help my team win games. Whether that means scoring, passing, getting rebounds or defensive stops.”

Kiara Williams added 20 points and 13 rebounds and Sofia Tavare scored 14 points.

Nicholas had her scoring wizardry on display against Pelham with 26 points and backcourt partner Tavarez chipped in 14.

The 2023 Section 1 and New York State Class A champions enter the 2024 sectional tournament with a 17-3. This assures the Panthers of a top-three seed in Class A.

Nicholas and her teammates are well aware how competitive the Section 1 Class A Championship will be.

“There are a lot of talented teams in Class A,” Nicholas said. “There are multiple teams that can end up holding the gold ball.

“Each day we are getting better even if it’s the smallest things. We are confident in our playing ability and are able to trust each other.”

As she has all season, Mahopac’s Fiona O’Boyle came up strong with a double double (14 points, 15 boards) in Wolf Pac’s 48-44 win over Lakeland Thursday.

WESTLAKE closed out the regular season with wins over rival Briarcliff (50-45) and Blind Brook (62-55) on Senior Night, clinching the Wildcats’ third consecutive league title.

Following a 3-6 start to its season, Westlake, the 2023 Section 1 Class B runnerup, closed by winning 10 of its last 11 games.

Maggie Plotkin scored a game-high 19 points against Briacliff and Olivia Celaj added 13 points.

Balanced scoring was the key against Blind Brook as Celaj and Plotkin scored 16 points apiece and Brooke Pfeiffer contributed 15 points.

“Winning another league title feels good, of course, but it’s only the first step to get to our goal,” Pfeiffer said. “The seniors remind us of the unfinished business from last year. They know the hard work begins now and we have to work really hard if we will be successful during the playoffs.

“We’re playing at a high level at the right time, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us so we have to stay focused only on the next game in front of us.”

WHITE PLAINS beat Fox Lane (57-37) to complete a perfect 8-0 league record and win their 10th consecutive game to finish 15-5 for the regular season.

It is the Tigers’ third consecutive league title.

Ineivi Plata scored a game-high 19 points and also had eight rebounds and six assists and Sequoia Layne had a double-double – 18 points and 15 rebounds;

“What a big accomplishment for this young team who was not expected to do well at all,” White Plains’ coach Benj Carter said. “But, they did and proved everybody wrong. What a big confidence booster for them. Our senior captain, point guard Ineivi Plata did a great job leading and directing the team. Our senior captain, forward Sequoia Layne assisted in the leadership role. Both doing well offensively and defensively. Them being the only starters from last year’s championship run stepped up big to get us on track after our early-season 5 losses. We learned so much from those defeats against such good teams. The remaining three seniors step up this year as well. They played limited minutes last year which increased tremendously this season. Senior Tess Haddad has been hitting long range shots. Senior Isabella McGuire has been the enforcer offensively and defensively and senior Isabella Cummings has been a great role player.”

Fox Lane sophomore forward Morgan Clinton looks to score inside during the second half of last week’s 52-44 loss up at Arlington.

The BREWSTER nine secured a victory hat trick – over Yorktown (38-30), John Jay-Cross River (40-38) and North Salem (40-37).

The win over John Jay made Brewster (15-5) co-league champions with the Wolves as both teams finished 5-3.

Olivia Francis scored 15 points and Lauren Leon added 10 points against Yorktown.

“The John Jay game was a back-and-forth 32-minute battle,” Brewster coach Mike Castaldo said. “This was our most complete game all year against a very well-coached and tough John Jay team, who had beaten us earlier in the season.

“I couldn’t be more happy for the girls. We knew what was on the line and they made plays when it mattered most.”

Francis finished with a game-leading 23 points and Jordan Niles contributed 10 points.

Three Brewster players scored in double-digits against North Salem as Francis and Leon each had 14 points and Niles added 12 points.

BYRAM HILLS closed out the regular season winning two of three games to share the league title.

“It means a lot that we were ankle to secure a league title, especially after the rocky start to the season,” senior Grace Corelli said.

Following a 53-41 loss to Brewster, the Bobcats came back with victories over Somers (50-35) and Hastings (52-27).

Corelli led the Bobcats with 17 points against Brewster and Darien Messina added 12 points.

Corellu scored 17 points and classmate Alana Vataj finished with 14 points against Somers.

Corelli netted 17 points for her third straight game, against Hastings, and Vataj scored 10 points.

Byram Hills senior guard Grace Corelli drives the left baseline against Sydney Ingraham of Somers last Tuesday. Corelli finished with 17 points to lead the Bobcats to a 50-35 victory.

Byram Hills closed the regular season at 10-10 as Corelli pointed to two aspects that led to the Bobcats strong second half.

“We are starting playing as a team and finished our shots which helped us at the end of the season,” Corelli explained. “Our defense has also greatly improved, especially our rebounding which is really contributing to our success right now.”

OSSINING goes into the Section 1 Championships with a 12-8 record, after beating Hen Hud (72-58) and Horace Greeley (71-54).

The Pride led Hen Hud by 25 at halftime and also held the Sailors’ leading scorer Kaitlyn Raguso to a season-low 11 points.

Saniya Bell and Nicole Perriott each had a double-double. Bell scored a game-best 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while Nicole Perriott scored a season-high 17 points and controlled 18 rebounds. Perriott is averaging 11 rebounds per game. Claire Schnecker pitched in with 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Schnecker led Ossining with 17 points as four Pride scored in double-figures. Perriott had another huge game with 16 points and 20 rebounds, Ty’asia Carver added 14 points and seven assists and Zoey Jowers netted 13 points.

YORKTOWN had a rough start to the season, then dealt with injuries to its two top players, but closed the regular season strong.

The Cornhuskers won six of their last eight games to conclude with a 10-9 record going into sectionals.

The last three victories were over Edgmont, Somers and Bronxville. Only Brewster spoiled Yorktown’s 4-for-4 week.

Valhalla’s Violet Mattoni tries to take baseline on Briarcliff’s Adrianna Scanga in host Vikings’ 60-50 loss to Bears last week.

K.J. Judge and Lexi Livadhi scored nine points apiece against Edgemont.

Livadhi had nine points and nine rebounds and Ava Costello also scored nine points against Brewster.

Judge poured in 29 points and collected nine rebounds and Livadhi added16 points and 12 rebounds against Somers.

Judge and Livadhi led the way against Bronxville as Judge had 11 points and nine rebounds and Livadhi finished with nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

LAKELAND went 1-2, but Nichole Ljuljic reached 1,000 varsity points in the loss to Ardsley.

She led the Hornets with 16 points and freshman Riley Waters added 11 points.

Ljuljic scored a game-high 21 points and Grace Hahn netted 10 points in the win over Sleepy Hollow.

Ljuljic rang up 21 points in a 48-44 loss to Mahopac and Ava Lugo had 10 points.

HEN HUD split two games to close the regular season with a 13-7 record.

The Sailors lost to Ossining (72-58) as Alexa Robinson scored a team-high 13 points. Kaitlyn Raguso finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds and Kate Stratton added 10 points and six rebounds.

Hen Hud won its last game over Sleepy Hollow.

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