Rivals Panas, Lakeland to Square off in Class A Quarterfinals

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Somers Shocks Brewster; Hen Hud, P’Ville Move to Quarters

By Tony Pinciaro

WALTER PANAS entered the 2023 Section Class A Girls’ Basketball Championship on a mission.

Kellie Sullivan of Lakeland is doubled-up by Byram Hills defenders Darien Messina (5) and Alana Vataj (L) in host Hornets’ 45-43 Class A playoff win over Bobcats Friday.

The Panthers lost in the previous year in the Section 1 Class A final to Tappan Zee, so they were primed to prove that was an aberration. Panas rebounded in emphatic fashion by winning the Section 1 Class A championship as well as the New York State Public High School Athletic Association title in 2023

Coach Matt Evangelista and his team enter the 2024 Section 1 Class A Championship even more psyched than last year and they plan to make it consecutive titles. State-ranked (No.11) Panas (17-3) is seeded second to Pearl River, also 17-3. Pearl River’s three losses are to non-Section-1 teams. The Panthers began defense of their title with a 53-29 victory over No.15 Roosevelt in a first-round game.

Junior Cadence Nicholas, who surpassed 1,500 varsity points in the final regular game of the regular season, scored a game-high 25 points. Those 1,500 points set a new school record as Nicholas surpassed all-time Panther great Danielle Hood to become the all-time leading scorer in school history. Fellow sensation Sofia Tavarez added 18 points for the Panthers.

Panas will host district-rival and seventh-seeded Lakeland (12-9) in a quarterfinal, Wednesday, 2/21. Panas swept the regular-season set with Lakeland. The winner advances to the semifinals, Monday, 2/26, at the Westchester County Center. The Class A championship game is scheduled for Saturday, March 2.The semifinals and final are at times to be determined.

“We are very excited, but we are taking it one game at a time,” Nicholas said. “We will maintain our confidence that we’ve had all year and continue to trust each other.”

As always, Class A is loaded with excellent teams. Ardsley (19-2) and Irvington (18-3) are seeded third and fourth, respectively. Irvington is coached by the legendary Gina Maher, who is the girls’ basketball all-time leader in New York history with 800 wins.

Alexa Robinson of Hen Hud battles for possession of the ball with a pair of Hastings players during the Sailors’ 69-27 Class A playoff rout of the Yellow Jackets that advanced them to a quarterfinal clash with fourth-seeded Irvington this Wednesday.

Hen Hud (14-7) is the fifth seed and 2022 Section 1 Class A titleist Tappan Zee is the sixth seed.

“There are several talented teams in Class A so we know it won’t be easy,” Nicholas said.

And this starts with Panas’ rival. Lakeland boasts offensive firepower in Nichole Ljuljic, who scored her 1,000 varsity point to close out the regular season, Ava Lugo, Amanda Franco and Riley Waters. Nicholas knows her opposition quite well.

“It’s always an exciting game against Lakeland,” Nicholas said. “Since they are our district rival it’s always energetic because so many people from the community come out and support both teams. They have some talented girls on their squad who I am close friends with which makes the game even more fun.”

PUTNAM VALLEY, led by Nai Torres and Jona Kobashi, will also begin defense of its 2023 sectional title.

The Tigers, who closed the season with 11 wins in their final 12 games, are seeded second in the Section 1 Class B Championships. They had a first-round bye and will host No.7 Bronxville in a quarterfinal, Tuesday, 2/20.

A victory would propel Putnam Valley back to the semifinals at the Westchester County Center, Saturday, 2/24, against the No. 6 Woodlands-No. 3 Croton winner. The championship game is scheduled for Friday, 3/1.

Putnam Valley’s lone loss the last two months was a shocker to North Salem.

“I think that our loss to North Salem definitely was a wake-up call that we needed before going into playoffs,” Torres said. “We are feeling confident as a team going into sectionals.

“We know what each and every one of us brings to the table and how we can combine all of our assets on the court to execute.”

Putnam Valley, which has been a staple at the Final 4 in recent years, is well aware that opponents will want the distinction of dethroning the Tigers.

Greeley’s Bella Schulman seeks to gain the paint on Carmel’s Ashley Webber in Quakers’ 72-37 Class AA outbracket playoff win over Rams Wednesday.

“I think having that target on our backs being the defending champions for the last few years definitely pushes us,” Torres said. “We know every time that whoever plays us is going to give us everything they have and we prepare for that every game and go in with the mindset that nothing is given.”

SOMERS registered the first upset in the Section 1 Class AA Championships. The No.12 Tuskers shocked No.5 Brewster, 40-34, in a first-round game for its second victory over the Bears this season. Somers will play at No.4 Pelham in a quarterfinal, Thursday, 2/22. The winner moves into the semifinals, Tuesday, 2/27, at the Westchester County Center. The Class AA title game is slated for Saturday, 3/2.

After Brewster went ahead, 34-33, with 1:30 remaining in the game, Ashley Kuchinsky drained a 3-pointer to give Somers the lead for good. The Tuskers also held the Bears scoreless the final 90 seconds.

“The game was very similar to the two prior matchups we had with them,” Somers’ Coach Kevin Mallon said. “This was low scoring and very physical. The difference in this game was our ability offensively to penetrate their 2-3 zone. We used a lot of skip passes, ball reversals and ball fakes. Three good ways to make the zone move and find the soft spots in the middle and on the baseline.”

Lindsay McCullough paced Somers with 15 points and Olivia Allegretti chipped in 12 points. Mallon cited Allegretti for her defense on Brewster’s versatile Jordan Niles.

WESTLAKE, the 2023 Section 1 Class B runner-up to Put Valley, is seeded fourth in Class B thus earning a first-round bye.

The Wildcats (13-7), who have won 10 of their last 11 games, host No. 5 Blind Brook in a quarterfinal, Tuesday, 2/21. The winner will go into the semifinals, Saturday, 2/24, at the County Center against the victor of No.9 Pleasantville-No.1 Yonkers Montessori Academy. The Class B final will be played Friday, March 1.

Byram Hills’ Grace Corelli takes a run at Lakeland’s Amanda Franco in visiting Bobcats’ 45-43 Section 1 Class A playoff loss to Hornets Friday.

The teams played at Blind Brook during the regular season with the Wildcats prevailing. Brooke Pfeiffer expects a Blind Brook looking to reverse the final result from the regular season.

“Blind Brook is a really good team and we both want to make it to the County Center,” Pfeiffer said. “I expect a battle as we both know each other well. Both teams will be prepared. We have a few surprises, but it will most likely come down to defense and who puts forth the most energy to get second-chance points on offense.”

HEN HUD opened the Section 1 Class A Championship with a 69-27 victory over No.12 Hastings. The fifth-seeded Sailors (14-7) travel to fourth-seeded Irvington (18-3) in a quarterfinal, Wednesday, 2/21.

Kaitlyn Raguso led the Sailors with a game-high 22 points and also collected five rebounds. Freshman Maria Ribeiro added a season-high 11 points and a team-best eight rebounds. Elyse Smith finished with six points, five assists and five steals.

LAKELAND overcame adversity to outlast No.12 Byram Hills, 45-43, in a Section 1 Class A first-round game. The seventh-seeded Hornets will play defending champion and second-seeded Panas in a quarterfinal, Wednesday, 2/21. Panas won both regular-season games against Lakeland. Lakeland won despite losing a player to injury in the first quarter.

“The girls really rallied and stepped up,” said Lakland Coach Miranda Mangan, who teaches Physical Education at Panas. “It was a very exciting win.”

Amanda Franco scored a team-leading 13 points and Riley Waters added 12 points.

PLEASANTVILLE rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit to eclipse No.8 Dobbs Ferry, 48-44.

Pleasantville’s Lexi Tomaselli eyes the basket on a drive into the lane during the second half of Thursday afternoon’s playoff game at Dobbs Ferry. She finished with 27 points as the Panthers roared from behind to defeat the Eagles 48-44.

The ninth-seeded Panthers were staunch defensively, holding the Eagles to two points for the final 10 minutes. Lexi Tomaselli scored a game-high 27 points and, as usual, guarded the opposition’s top player.

Pleasantville Coach Kelly Guarino pointed out her lineup in the fourth quarter consisted of three freshmen and two eighth-graders. Pleasantville, which will pose problems for many foes the next few years, will visit top-seeded Yonkers Montessori Academy in a quarterfinal, Tuesday, 2/20.

WHITE PLAINS, the 2023 Section 1 Class AA champion and eventual state runner-up, and OSSINING open play in the Section 1 Class AAA Championships, Friday, 2/23. The Tigers are seeded second, behind No.1 R.C. Ketcham, and will host Mamaroneck. The Pride are No.4 and will welcome No.5 North Rockland.

The semifinals will go on Wednesday, 2/28, and the championship game is scheduled for Sunday, 3/3.

Fifth-seeded BREWSTER had its season come to a premature close to No.12 Somers, 40-34, in a Section 1 Class AA first-round game. Somers outscored Brewster, 7-0, in the game’s final 90 seconds.

“We took the lead with 1:30 to go on a three by Lauren Leon, 34-33, but Somers answered on the next possession with a three of its own and never looked back,” Brewster Coach Mike Castaldo said. “Somers played great defense and made the plays when it mattered. They did a better job of taking care of the ball and deserved the win.”

Senior Bri Franklin led Brewster with a double-double – 11 points and 10 rebounds. The Bears finished with a 15-6 record and were co-league champs.

“It was a great year in a very competitive league,” Castaldo said. “I’m proud of how the girls grew and played toward the end of the season.”

BYRAM HILLS had a strong second half to the season, capped by a league title. The Bobcats were seeded 12th in the Section 1 Class A Championships, but fell to No.7 Lakeland, 45-43. in a first-round game.

Greeley’s Ava Gusba sends entry pass into lane as Carmel defenders converge in Quakers’ 72-37 Class AA outbacket playoff win over visiting Rams.

Grace Corelli concluded her outstanding career with 20 points and Alana Vataj, a captain on the Byram Hills’ sectional-winning volleyball team last fall, added 14 points.

“I’m very proud of how my team played,” Corelli said. “We were down by 10 points two times in the game and both times we were able to fight back to within two points. Although we didn’t get the win in the end, we put everything we had into the game. Overall, being able to win the league, end with a 10-10 record after a rocky start to the season, and having the opportunity to reach 1,000 points with my family and friends was the best senior season I could have had. I am so happy to have gone on this journey with the best coaches and best group of girls. And, I will forever cherish the memories I made throughout my five years on the team.”

YORKTOWN turned it on in the last month of the season and had momentum going into the Section 1 Class AA Championships. However, MAHOPAC (15-6) halted the charging Cornhuskers, 48-28, in a first-round game. Mahopac advanced to the quarterfinals where it will play at No.2 Harrison, Thursday, 2/22. Mahopac sophomore Mady Ford led the offense with 14 points while Adrianna Pranzo (9 points) and Ashley Koch each added nine. Mahopac, which trailed by three after the first quarter, outscored the Huskers 14-4 for a 21-14 lead at the half.

Mahopac G Ashley Koch gets up for two points in Wolf Pac’s opening-round Class AA playoff win over visiting Yorktown Friday.

Kaitlyn Judge led Yorktown (10-10) with 13 points. The game turned when Wolf Pac F Fiona O’Boyle (8 points, double digit boards) hit consecutive buckets, and a Juliana Mangione hoop – off a deflected ball on a Yorktown free throw – which was then followed by a crucial Ford 3-pointer.

HORACE GREELEY eliminated visiting CARMEL, 72-37, in an outbracket game before the 13th-seeded Quakers were eliminated by host Pelham, 50-32, despite a team-high 13 points from Ava Gusba, who tallied another 13 points, along with Bella Schulman, in the win over Carmel. G Young star Kylie Murphy led the Rams with a game-high 24 points.

Ray Gallagher contributed to this story



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