Valhalla’s Sam Morillo had already just about done it all for the Vikings last Wednesday afternoon when she decided there was one more task she could handle.
So with just over two minutes left in the Section One, Class B quarterfinal game against visiting Bronxville, Morillo jogged the length of the court to retrieve a towel from the Vikings’ bench in order to dry a wet spot along the baseline.
“That was the fastest I’ve seen her run,” Valhalla head coach Stephen Boyer would say, jokingly, a bit later. “I was like, ‘Where are you going? Don’t go off the court.’ I didn’t know what she was doing. But she’s the captain and the leader of our team.”
Morillo, the Vikings’ dominating senior center, finished with a game-high 29 points as fourth-seeded Valhalla eased past the fifth-seeded Broncos 54-38 to earn a berth in the tournament semifinals at the Westchester County Center once again.
“It’s been a great three-year run,” said Boyer. “This is our third year in a row and obviously the competition increases once you get to the County Center. But it’s a hard fight to get to the County Center. We can say most teams haven’t been there. We were there three years in a row.”
Before she helped dry the court, Morillo was wreaking havoc on the Broncos at both ends of the floor. She scored five baskets in the fourth quarter during a 12-6 run as Valhalla turned a seemingly precarious 38-28 lead into a 16-point cushion with two and a half minutes left on the clock.
“The bottom line is we got the ball into Sam with her not getting double-teamed as much and she made a couple baskets inside there,” said Boyer. “We executed our sideline plays, got the ball into Sam one on one and she finished.”
Morillo had three buckets in each of the first two quarters and Valhalla built a 21-15 advantage at halftime. Five quick points from Sierra Lockhart, on a left-elbow 3-pointer and a fast-break layup, enabled the Vikings to open up a double-digit lead with 6:44 remaining in the third quarter. A 17-foot jumper by Shannon Brosnan stretched the margin to 30-17 exactly halfway through the period.
Bronxville narrowed its deficit to 35-28 after a 3-point shot from eighth-grader Kiki Tormey with 1:20 to go in the third quarter. But Valhalla sophomore guard Shelby Sekinski provided a free throw 14 seconds later and then added a short toss in the lane with 44 seconds left that gave the Vikings a 10-point lead heading to the fourth quarter.
Morillo wound up scoring 10 of the Vikings’ first 12 points of the final period. Lockhart, who finished with 12 points, supplied the other two on a pair of free throws with 5:12 left. The last of the Morillo baskets, on a feed from McKenzie Flaherty, opened up a 50-34 advantage. The only intrigue after that came when Bronco senior Ashley Kaye stepped to the foul line with just 2:20 remaining and scored the 1000th point of her varsity career.
By then, the Vikings had long since taken command, so the impromptu ceremony honoring Kaye that briefly delayed the contest had no impact on the outcome.
“It’s fortunate it didn’t come to that,” said Boyer. “But it’s a great accomplishment by Ashley. Credit goes to her. She’s had a great career and Bronxville’s had a great four years with her on the court. She got herself a ball to take home. She’ll always remember this moment.”
Had it not been for a furious second-half comeback by the Vikings in the opening round of the playoffs, Kaye’s milestone would have come against Westlake on her own home floor. Valhalla found itself trailing the torrid-shooting Wildcats 37-21 at halftime six days earlier before turning the game around with a big second half and advancing with a 63-58 victory.
Morillo finished up with 34 points, accumulating 17 of them in the fourth quarter when the Vikings were outscoring the Wildcats 24-11. Lockhart had 13 of her 19 points after intermission. Westlake connected on eight of its 11 3-point tries in the opening half, much to the dismay of Boyer.
“They shot almost 90 percent as a team,” he said. “Give them credit. They came out firing, which we knew they would. At halftime, we just made a little adjustment. I think our girls came out and played a little harder and shots started to not go in for them. Sam just kind of took over the whole second half. We clawed our way back. We had our first lead with a minute left in the game.”
That comeback, and the rout of Bronxville, now gives the Vikings a chance to see if the third time can be the charm at the County Center.
“They know what they’re walking into,” said Boyer of his now-experienced players. “But we’re not just here to compete. We’ve done that for two years. Let’s go win, and there’s no pressure on us. Let’s just go play and enjoy the experience. And it WILL be a great experience.”