The beads of sweat pouring from Ashley Jara's forehead and the freshman taking deep breaths between sentences and smiles were testament to the belief that there is no substitute for hustle. No substitute for defense or clutch shooting, either.
Heck, for the Uniondale girls basketball team, there isn't much substituting, period.
Latest HS sports stories
How short is the Knights' rotation? Well . . . usually, five deep. Coach Danielle Nicol, for most of the season, has opted to go with her starters exclusively -- girls she trusts wholly and who, of course, are well-conditioned.
"It's tough and I can barely talk," Jara said minutes after the game. "But we put in a lot of work, so we're ready for this."
Jara's fast-break layup broke a tie at 37 with 1:28 remaining and Jayda Hyatt's free throws pushed the lead to 43-37 a minute later.
"My teammates kept coming to me down the stretch, showing me confidence," said Jara, who scored six of her 12 points in the fourth quarter. "I had an open lane [on the layup] so I had to get something out of it."
The sixth-seeded Knights (16-4) have gotten something out of this season, making their first trip to the final since 2010. Uniondale will face Massapequa at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at LIU Post.
Aliyah McDonald scored 15 points, including converting steals into fast-break layups on consecutive possessions to give the Knights a 23-22 lead with 3:00 left in the third.
"It took us a long time to really get going on offense, but we got a lot of stops and played good defense to keep ourselves in it," McDonald said. "Our defense started helping our offense and we made key plays. Ashley hit some big shots and we're just getting more and more confidence in her."
Nadine Hadnagy scored 13 points in the first half for No. 7 Farmingdale (16-4), which split two regular-season games with Uniondale. Lauren Hill and Courtney Irby each added eight points for the Dalers.
McDonald's steal and subsequent three-point play gave Uniondale a 37-32 lead with 2:52 left, but Farmingdale came back. Hadnagy tied it at 37, driving through a crowd and scooping in a layup with 1:42 to go.
Uniondale returned only five players from last year's team, and those girls make up its starting lineup. Although 11 players are on its active roster, Nicol said, "everyone else is new and young and still developing their games. With my starting five, I know they can play at a high level."
The Knights, when it seemed as if they could begin to tire, charged back from a 20-16 halftime deficit. Uniondale's only substitution was Taylah Hawkins, for a stretch early in the fourth quarter, after Yadelin Martinez (six points) picked up a fourth foul.
"The conditioning has gotten to the point where they're no longer making mental mistakes when they're tired," Nicol said. "My girls can get it done for all 32 [minutes] and it's amazing to see them go."