Standing on the foul line with the game on the line, Division's Kristen Costello took a breather. She stopped, let it sink in and redid her ponytail so it stood playfully atop her head. The crowd, which had spent most of the Garden City-Division rematch hollering and being chided toward silence, laughed out the tension.
It took but a swish of the net - well, two actually - for the laughter to turn to exuberant cheers.
Costello, the senior forward, sank the free throws with 12.5 seconds left to seal the victory and give Division sole possession of first place in ABC-I, as the Blue Dragons defeated Garden City, 50-46, at Division Avenue High School.
"I guess I thought I had time," Costello said of the impromptu grooming session that she jokingly said should become her free-throw ritual. "It felt so good to be up by two possessions . . . It's always good to win."
Division entered the second half leading 37-29, but the fourth quarter proved nearly disastrous thanks to a 9-1 Garden City run, spurred by a fadeaway jumper by Diana Leondis and capped by a putback by Christina Mangels. But a key steal by Kristen Stuart with 2:35 left helped the Blue Dragons recuperate and shifted momentum.
Leondis made two free throws to tie the score at 44 but a reinvigorated Division pulled away. Taylor Malings hit two free throws and Christina Rea's layup put Division ahead 48-44.
Leondis again struck from the foul line, this time with two more free throws to draw the Trojans (8-2) to within two. It was Costello's free throws, though, that finally put the game out of reach.
This is the second time in two tries that Division (9-1) has toppled reigning Conference ABC-I champs Garden City this year.
It was almost too easy to say the first one didn't count - that Division's last win against the Trojans meant less because Leondis, their star guard, was hurt. Division put to rest any naysayers with compelling performances by Costello and guard Julie Ballantyne.
Ballantyne had 12 points and kept Leondis at bay throughout the game.
"We lost to them twice last year," Ballantyne said of Garden City. "It was nice to win against Leondis at full strength."
While Ballantyne neutralized Leondis, Costello guarded the Trojans' leading scorer this year: Barbara Sullivan.
Garden City coach Anthony Sparacia said the effort was impressive.
"[Costello] baits you,'' he said. "You think Barbara is free, and all of a sudden, she's unavailable.''
While Ballantyne and Costello helmed the Dragons' man-to-man defense, it was Stuart who proved to be the formidable force in the paint - not allowing Sullivan's quick drives to penetrate.
"We put our best defensive players on them," Division coach Steve Kissane said. "We shut them down."