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Kaela Hilaire has nothing to apologize for in Floral Park’s loss

Floral Park Memorial's Kaela Hilaire (1) moves the

Floral Park Memorial's Kaela Hilaire (1) moves the ball past Jamesville-DeWitt's Kasey Vaughan (34) in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class A girls' Championship basketball game on Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Troy, N.Y. Jamesville-DeWitt won the game 82-37. Credit: Hans Pennink

TROY, N.Y. — Kaela Hilaire’s teammates would not accept her apology.

The Floral Park senior point guard led Long Island in scoring this season. She helped make those around her better. She put on dribbling and shooting displays that left defenders in shambles and crowds in amazement. She guided the Knights to their most successful season in school history.

And still, when the Knights huddled before the fourth quarter, she apologized to her teammates.

“I’m sorry because I feel like I didn’t do well as I should have,” she said Saturday night after Floral Park fell to Jamesville-DeWitt, 82-37, in the Class A state championship game at Hudson Valley Community College.

But her teammates weren’t in a forgiving mood . . . because they felt there was nothing to apologize for.

“I was like, ‘Do not say you’re sorry!’” Faith Balletta said. “’Without you, we wouldn’t be where we are.”

Nor would they be where they are without Balletta’s rebounding, Natalie Hickman’s inside presence, Marykate Guerriero’s outside shooting, Aideen Gil’s intangibles, and so on.

Though Saturday night’s loss was a disappointing conclusion to the Knights’ historic season, it in no way will overshadow what Hilaire and her teammates accomplished. After capturing county and Long Island championships, they took the program to new heights by advancing to the state championship game for the first time.

There they simply faced a better and very balanced team in Jamesville-DeWitt, which, regardless of the defensive formation the Knights threw at them, continued to knock down outside shots, hitting 11 three-pointers.

“From the beginning to the end, every shot they took was in,” Hickman said. “You can’t do much. But it was a big success to come this far. I’ll definitely take this with me for the rest of my life.”

A baseline drive by Carly O’Hern capped a 16-0 Jamesville-DeWitt run in the second quarter that opened a 25-8 lead. Hilaire hit threes on consecutive possessions to cut the deficit to 28-16. A bucket in the post by Jamie Boeheim, daughter of Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim, sent Jamesville into the half with a 32-16 advantage.

Meg Hair, who led Jamesville-DeWitt with 24 points, opened the third with a pair of threes, and the lead grew from there.

“We were in zone, they hit threes. We were in man (defense), they created match-up problems,” Floral Park coach Mike Spina said. “We ran into a buzz saw.”

Hilaire had 22 points for Floral Park. Balletta added nine points and seven rebounds.

“I’m happy with how far we got, obviously not happy with the way it ended,” Hilaire said. “They can’t take away any of the championships we got. The Nassau championship, the LIC. So hopefully people will remember this.”

Leaving a memorable legacy was Hilaire’s goal when she returned to Floral Park as a sophomore after a season with Long Island Lutheran. Her basketball career will continue at the University of Albany, just a few miles away from the arena in which she played Saturday night.

She checked out of the game late in the fourth quarter last night, and walked off the court for the final time with Floral Park, as chants of “MVP!” reigned down from the stands.

“I’ll tell Kaela and the girls to keep their heads up because there’s about 100 other schools that would give anything to be where we were today,” Spina said. “I’m not going to let them cry or get down because they made history. They have everything to be proud of and nothing to be ashamed of.”

And nothing to apologize for.

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