Long Island Lutheran was a little rusty in the first half of Sunday's NYSAIS Class B girls basketball championship game. That was to be expected. The Crusaders hadn't played a game since Feb. 24.
But after that long layoff, what wasn't expected was the break the starters got at the end of the game. Lutheran led by 20 points at the start of the fourth quarter and its starters were on the bench for the final moments of a 79-54 victory over Dalton at the Fieldston School.
"You have to go in thinking it's anyone's game," said Jessica DeNicola, who had 16 points. "Today, everyone's head was focused. No one took it lightly and we wound up coming out with a great thing and everyone got a chance to play."
The win puts the Crusaders in the state Federation tournament for the second straight season.
Paige Kriftcher scored 25 points to lead Lutheran's balanced attack. Kriftcher and Christina Raiti (15 points) did most of the damage from outside and Dalton had no answer for the 6-3 DeNicola down low. Sarah Seger had 12 points, including the final 10 for Lutheran (20-3).
LuHi led 14-13 after one quarter and 37-28 at halftime. But after Dalton made it a seven-point game with two free throws to open the half, the Crusaders turned it up, dominating the third quarter for a 61-40 lead entering the fourth.
"We've been scrimmaging a little but it's not really the same," Kriftcher said. "Once the whistle goes off and it starts, it's completely different."
Said LuHi coach Rich Slater: "I just thought we had to do a better job getting more aggressive. We were a little sluggish. I was so concerned about that layoff. I'm not right about many things, but I was right about that."
The team now faces another, even longer, layoff. The Federation tournament starts March 26. Until then, Slater said the Crusaders will scrimmage anyone they can and, of course, practice.
"Everyone really goes hard against each other in practice and in the end, we make each other better," DeNicola said. "So when it comes to a game like this, we can compete with anyone."
Lutheran lost in the final of the Federation tournament last season. This year could end differently.
"I think we'll be ready this year," Kriftcher said. "We just need to pick up the intensity. We can't wait until the second quarter, we have to start right away."