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Kaela Hilaire’s 26 points help Floral Park advance to ‘A’ title game

Floral Park's Kaela Hilaire (1) puts a shot

Floral Park's Kaela Hilaire (1) puts a shot over Rye's Katie Popp (10) in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class A girls semifinal basketball game on Friday, March 11, 2016, in Troy, N.Y. Floral Park won, 61-55. Credit: Hans Pennink

TROY, N.Y. — You gotta have faith.

Faith that players will step up when needed. Faith that shots will fall when they matter most. Faith that history will be made.

And, of course, Faith Balletta.

Balletta was the perfect complement to Kaela Hilaire Friday as Floral Park defeated Rye, 61-55, in the state Class A semifinals at Hudson Valley Community College. The Knights advanced to the state championship game for the first time in the history of the girls basketball program.

“It’s the time of my life right now,” said Balletta, who was dominant on the offensive glass, giving the Knights valuable second opportunities to help maintain their lead. “And this is the chance of a lifetime.”

Hilaire scored 26 points, Balletta had 11 points and 15 rebounds, and Natalie Hickman added 12 points for Floral Park, which plays Jamesville-Dewitt for the state title at 7 p.m. Saturday at Hudson Valley CC.

“Listen, we are one step away from history,” Floral Park coach Mike Spina said, “and it’s the best feeling I’ve had since my kids were born.”

Balletta, who hit all five of her field-goal attempts, capped a 12-0 run midway through the second quarter after cutting to the hoop, receiving a pretty feed out of the post from Hickman, and converting the layup to open a 22-13 lead. Hilaire’s straightaway jumper with just under 30 seconds left in the half sent Floral Park into the break up 28-22.

“Right away we knew we had to come out strong so they knew that we were in it to win it,” Hickman said.

Marykate Guerriero and Hickman hit threes on consecutive possessions late in the third to open a 43-34 advantage. Balletta’s putback to open the fourth, one of her seven offensive rebounds, ignited a 10-2 run as the Knights’ lead grew to 53-39.

“Faith and Natalie, they’re rebounding sensations,” Hilaire said. “I’m really proud of them because we knew that we were facing a real athletic team. We couldn’t have got this win without them.”

Hilaire was instrumental in helping the Knights overcome Rye’s pressure defense early on. Though she struggled somewhat from the field, shooting 6 of 17, Hilaire scored nine points in the fourth to help seal the win.

“No Floral Park team has gotten this far,” said Hilaire, Long Island’s leading scorer at just over 30 points per game. “We have one more game to go and then, hopefully, the Federation Tournament next week. We have goals on top of goals.”

Guerriero and Aideen Gil each added six points for Floral Park (24-1). With role players stepping up at crucial times, and with Hilaire due to put on one of the shooting displays she is known for, Balletta has complete and total faith in her team.

“I feel it in my gut,” she said. “No other team is like this team. We are going to get this win tomorrow. I am positive about that.”

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