Third-Quarter Run Sparks the Panthers to a Win Over Briarcliff

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Pleasantville's Josie Amerson scores a basket vs. host Briarcliff.
Pleasantville’s Josie Amerson scores a basket
vs. host Briarcliff.

Whatever it was that Briarcliff girls’ basketball coach Don Hamlin said to his players at halftime of last Thursday evening’s game against archrival Pleasantville seemed to work wonders. The Bears came out of the locker room and promptly scored three straight baskets to quickly whittle an eight-point deficit down to two.

Unfortunately for the host Bears, though, their third-quarter revival didn’t last very long.

The Panthers, led by a trio of standout seniors, answered the Briarcliff challenge by closing the period on a 10-2 run and went on to defeat the Bears 42-29. Josie Amerson finished with a game-high 16 points and AnnMarie DiCarlo added 14 as Pleasantville swept the season series between the neighboring schools and improved to 11-3 this season.

“It’s always going to be a battle,” said Panthers coach Myndi Hill afterwards. “You know, it’s Briarcliff-Pleasantville. I thought Don’s group came out at halftime ready to go. They sent a message real quick. But we answered, and that’s what’s nice about having a veteran team.”

The second half began with Briarcliff’s Kelly Monaghan making a 17-footer from the left baseline and then Kelsey Simpson stealing the ball and racing coast to coast for a layup. Another steal soon led to a Monaghan fast-break layup that moved the Bears to within 23-21 and forced Hill to call for a timeout.

Hill summoned her players to the bench to, as she put it, “give them a jolt of energy” and had to like what she was soon about to witness. The Panthers returned to the court and DiCarlo immediately switched the momentum back in P’ville’s favor by connecting on two consecutive jumpers near the top of the key. Amerson followed with a layup and teammate Courtney Sheehy added another bucket.

Briarcliff’s Jackie Contento spun inside for a basket with 40 seconds left in the quarter, but the period ended with Amerson scoring inside again. The Panthers took a 33-23 lead with eight minutes remaining, and the Bears never got any closer than eight points in the final quarter.

Hamlin, whose Briarcliff team has struggled over the last couple of weeks, was disappointed that the early momentum in the second half changed hands so quickly.

“We couldn’t keep that momentum going in our favor,” he said. “It’s something we have to improve on.”

The two teams went scoreless for nearly a minute and a half to start the fourth quarter before Sheehy, the Panther senior point guard who controlled the second half with her floor leadership, connected on a short jumper that stretched the Pleasantville lead to 12 points.

“She’s always been a great playmaker,” said Hill about Sheehy, whose Panther career has twice been interrupted by knee trouble. “So having her on the court as the court general is so crucial to our success. Point guards don’t always get the credit, but are a huge part of any team’s success.”

Sheehy’s jump shot early in the fourth quarter was followed by back-to-back buckets by the Bears’ Carly Fanelli and Monaghan that narrowed the Briarcliff deficit to 35-27 with 4:48 remaining. But Amerson, who matched her point total with 16 rebounds, got inside for a basket and DiCarlo added a layup with 2:37 left to all but end any doubt about the outcome.

The Panthers scored the game’s first five points and never trailed all evening. Amerson had six of her points in the opening quarter as Pleasantville built an 11-6 advantage. But after an Amerson layup a minute into the second period, Briarcliff responded with six straight points, getting a basket from Contento, one free throw by Grace Orr and then a left-corner 3-pointer by Maddie Plank, an eighth-grader recently promoted to varsity who led the Bears with eight points.

But Pleasantville, limited to just 13 points over the first 14 minutes of the contest, closed the half by outscoring the Bears 10-2 over the final 1:55. Six of the points came from DiCarlo on a pair of 3-pointers. Briarcliff, trailing by just a point with 2:35 left before halftime, suddenly found itself trailing 23-15 at intermission.

“We should’ve been able to build off that,” said Hamlin about the 3-point basket by Plank. “For whatever reason, every time we got close we decelerated instead of accelerated and, obviously, you can’t do that.”

“You had two different teams,” said P’ville’s Hill, comparing the Bears to the Panthers. “He’s got some young, fresh, really talented players, and we have some nice veteran talented players… We just hit a couple more shots, I think, and got some breathing room.”

So now Pleasantville turns its attention to a showdown at home this week with first-place Westlake, with a league title possibly on the line. Hill, for one, will savor whatever the rest of the season has in store for her Panthers.

“I’m very thankful to be coaching this team,” she said. “They’re a good group. They’re a fun group. They play hard for each other. It’s one of my most enjoyable years that I’ve had, and that includes college coaching.”

While Hill prepares her team for its clash with the Wildcats and then maybe a playoff run all the way to the County Center, Hamlin is faced with the challenge of rebuilding his players’ sagging confidence, while also adding two middle-school players, including daughter KC Hamlin, into the rotation.

Against the Panthers, KC was whistled for two quick fouls while trying to deny an inbound pass to Sheehy near midcourt in the fourth quarter and soon found herself headed back to the bench.

“We have to learn to play that situation a little better and do it without fouling,” said Hamlin. “But I think it’s good for us that the younger girls are starting to get some experience. It’ll help us down the road, either at the end of this year or at the start of next year.”

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