TROY, N.Y. - Taylor Malings didn't guard Lakeland's Tori Jarosz in Friday's state Class A girls basketball semifinal. But the Division guard's assessment of Jarosz pretty much summed up the game.
"She's huge," Malings said. "I was standing up to her and I was just like, 'Oh my God.' She's really big."
Division's run for a title ended with a 51-45 loss to Lakeland at Hudson Valley CC. Jarosz, a 6-3 center who will play for Vanderbilt next season, finished with 31 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocked shots.
"We've never seen anybody like her down by us," Division coach Steve Kissane said. "I'm going to become a Vanderbilt fan and root for them in the tournament and say, 'We played against her.' She's a great player and she's going to have a great career."
Because the Dragons have five players at least 5-10, Kissane thought his team might be able to contain Jarosz, but foul trouble derailed those plans. Division, which typically uses a six-player rotation, had to turn to its young bench more than usual.
Lakeland (23-2) will take on Averill Park (23-1), a 46-33 winner over Greece Arcadia, in the final at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Julie Ballantyne led Division (20-2) with 11 points. Nicolette Parmese scored 10 and Malings, Christina Rea and Kristen Stuart each had seven. Ballantyne received the state sportsmanship award and Parmese was named a regional All-Star.
Lakeland led by 11 with just over two minutes remaining, but Division didn't go down easily. Whether it was Malings grabbing a steal, Stuart hustling to keep a ball inbounds or Parmese chasing down a rebound, the Dragons were relentless. They forced Lakeland into 29 turnovers.
After Parmese hit a layup, Malings took a steal end-to-end and Ballantyne hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 47-42 with 1:17 remaining.
Lakeland had missed four straight free throws, but Kristin Pappalardo (12 points) hit two to make it 49-42. Ballantyne's three-pointer cut Division's deficit to 49-45 with 23.2 seconds left, but Jarosz closed it out with two free throws.
Division opened with a 7-0 run and led 14-7 after one quarter. Jarosz picked up two early fouls but didn't get her third until the fourth quarter. She hit two free throws at the end of the second to break a 26-26 tie, and Lakeland never trailed after that.
Jarosz said she calmed down after the second foul. That illustrated Division's biggest problem against her. "It was really intense early on and I was trying to block shots," she said. "But then I just realized even if I just keep my hands up, it still makes it harder for them to shoot."
It was harder to shoot. Division shot 14-for-65 (22 percent).
Despite the loss, Division's players held their heads high. The Dragons went further than any other team in school history.
Said senior Kristen Costello: "It's not fun to lose ever, but we've never made it this far. I'm really proud of everyone. We tried so hard, and to come this far is really amazing."