The Long Island Lutheran ship was sailing along smoothly. The Crusaders have played some of the best basketball on Long Island and it was punctuated with a win over Molloy, one of the top teams in the city, on Wednesday night.
The Crusaders experienced some bumpy waters at the end of the game when Taylor Brown was injured and the initial diagnosis was a sprained right MCL and a two-week absence. It turns out the Crusaders hit a major wave. An MRI revealed Brown has a torn ACL and she will miss the remainder of the season.
"She's obviously a huge part of our team," sophomore guard Paige Kriftcher said. "The pressure is on everyone. We all need to step up to the challenge. There will be an adjustment."
Kriftcher had the responsibility of handling the point Saturday and she did a solid job for Long Island Lutheran in a 44-33 home win over West 50th Street in a non-league game.
"Paige stepped up," Long Island Lutheran coach Rich Slater said. "She has no choice right now. Other kids have to step up, too. We asked Paige to do a lot today."
Kriftcher was able to handle pressure and bring the ball up court. The problem was the Crusaders' inept shooting. They shot 11-for-55 from the field, which is uncharacteristic for a team that came in averaging 60.8 points per game.
If there was a positive, it was Kriftcher.
"[Coach] has confidence in me," she said. "I need to step up the confidence in myself. I love the pressure. When he asks to guard the best girl, I love it, so I'm happy to try and fill her spot."
It won't be an easy task. Brown, who has received interest from Division I schools, led the Crusaders to the Class B Federation championship game last season as an eighth-grader and her presence on the floor can't be measured in statistics.
"We rely on Taylor for a lot," Slater said. "I think defensively, she gets her hands on everything. Her defensive game is very active. We're going to miss that. The kids felt a little uncomfortable without her."
Long Island Lutheran (10-1) led 15-6 after the first quarter, but scored just five points in the second quarter for a 20-18 lead. LIL held a 29-28 lead after three quarters before opening the fourth quarter with an 11-0 run capped by a pair of free throws by Kriftcher with 2:55 left for a 40-28 lead. Kriftcher scored seven of her 11 points in the fourth quarter, including 5-for-6 from the foul line.
"I feel Paige did a great job," said Lutheran's Jessica DeNicola, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds. "She really handled the ball well. She's going to be a big part of filling in for Taylor."
Though it was an ugly win for LIL, the team played excellent defense. West 50th Street (12-3) went scoreless for the first 6:35 of the fourth quarter and 6-4 LIU-bound Justine Perry was held to four points and fouled out with 4:36 left.
"I love ugly victories," Slater said. "As long as we win, I'm good."