Long Island Lutheran's Kayleigh Heckel scores during a New York State...

Long Island Lutheran's Kayleigh Heckel scores during a New York State Federation Tournament of Champions Class AA girls basketball semifinal against South Shore on Saturday in Latham, N.Y. Credit: Hans Pennink

LATHAM, N.Y. — Kate Koval was talking about what she called the “haters” and a chance to prove a point.

Long Island Lutheran had just held on for a 65-60 victory over PSAL champ South Shore from Brooklyn in the New York State Federation Tournament of Champions Class AA semifinals Saturday at Shaker High.  

That means it will be an intriguing all-Long Island final at 2 p.m. Sunday on this same court — LuHi vs. St. Mary’s. But the opponent, Koval said, doesn’t matter to the Crusaders, who are ranked fifth in the country by ESPN.

“It’s just a matter of people who are saying we’re not a real New York team and we don’t belong here,” said the 6-5 junior forward, who’s originally from Ukraine and now splits her time between New York and with her family in Canada. “But our thing is to just prove and show everybody we’re the best team in New York.

“The thing about our team is we all come from different places. We travel to go to that school. For some people, that’s not a real New York team. It’s just the haters who don’t want to see us succeed. But our thing is just to play basketball.”

It wasn’t the best game for the team representing the NYSAISAA. But Kayleigh Heckel scored 20 points, Koval added 13 and Lauryn Swann had 12 to help Long Island Lutheran improve to 21-2 and get a chance to face coach Kevin White’s CHSAA champion Gaels from Manhasset.

“They’re a talented team that controls pace well,” LuHi coach Christina Raiti said. “They can shoot the ball. I’ve known Kevin for a long time. He’s a great coach. But it’s going to be about what we choose to do.”

After Swann hit a right-side runner and followed with a right-side three, Long Island Lutheran had a 59-47 lead with 3:11 to go. 

But a Crusaders technical resulted in a made free throw. Natalia Williams then scored seven straight to make it an 8-0 run — 59-55, 2:09 remaining.

Heckel nailed two from the line. But Ariel Little, who scored 18, drove to cut it to 61-57. 

Next: LuHi turnover; South Shore miss from three; LuHi turnover. 

Makylah Moore went to the basket for the Vikings, but Koval blocked the shot. Shya Hawkins scored at the other end. The margin was six with about 28 seconds left.

“We all agree that it all came down to us being more tough,” Koval said. “Even after getting a technical, we still stayed locked in.” 

The Crusaders owned a 38-31 lead at halftime and a 47-41 advantage after three.

“I love what we bring to the table,” Raiti said. “I love our unselfishness.”

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