Lutheran's Celeste Taylor passes the ball against Christ the King's Khadija...

Lutheran's Celeste Taylor passes the ball against Christ the King's Khadija Demry in state Federation Class AA semifinal. Credit: Hans Pennink

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — In a way, Friday’s state Federation Class AA semifinal served as a passing of the torch.

Senior Celeste Taylor, a program staple for the Long Island Lutheran girls basketball team, struggled with her shot as the Crusaders fell into a second-half hole. Paris Clark, a freshman, elevated her game, scoring eight straight points as Lutheran cut the Christ the King deficit to three points with 4:06 remaining.

Christ the King proved too big an obstacle, though, as the Crusaders’ season ended with a 57-42 loss at Cool Insuring Arena.

The Royals play Ossining in the final at 6:45 p.m. Saturday.

“It was hard because I just think they physically just…they were tougher than us today,” Crusaders coach Rich Slater said. “You have to be tough all 32 minutes, and they out-toughed us today.”

Taylor, who will compete this Wednesday in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Atlanta, scored seven points but took a backseat in the second half as Clark ignited Lutheran (15-8).

Facing a 43-32 deficit after Kaelynn Sattersfield’s layup for Christ the King (26-4), Clark stole the ball near halfcourt and took off for a transition layup. She slowed near the basket and had her shot blocked from behind, and Slater responded with an emotionally charged timeout.

The pep talk worked. Clark stole the ensuing inbounds pass and scored, then scored again off a steal by Syd Rosenoff. Her putback capped a personal 8-0 spurt, cutting the Christ the King lead to 43-40. She had 14 points, 10 in the second half.

“The play prior to that, Paris got blocked and she had her head down,” said Taylor, a Valley Stream native. “I told her, ‘It’s OK. You’re a freshman, and they’re going to come at you. But I need you to keep your head in and stay and play with me.’ ”

Christ the King responded with an 8-0 run — snapped by a layup from Clark — and closed the game with a 14-2 run.

“I thought Paris Clark, that three or four minutes that she gave…she’s special,” Slater said. “The kid’s going to be an unreal player. She’s coachable. She’s going to go down as one of the really good ones we have.”

Taylor spoke glowingly of Clark and her other younger teammates, and Slater said Taylor has acted like a big sister to them. The Gatorade New York Girls Basketball Player of the Year winner didn’t cap her career with a coveted Federation championship, but she’ll get to compete for NCAA championships at Texas, a No. 7 seed in this year’s tournament.

“She’s going down as the most decorated player to come out of our program,” Slater said. “More than that, she’s a great kid. She’s fun to be with. I applaud her competitiveness.”

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