ALBANY -- The strategy is simply called, "Red." The way the Long Island Lutheran girls attacked the ball on defense Saturday, it was as if they were sharks who smelled blood.
The Lady Crusaders made 20 steals, forced 30 turnovers that they turned into 29 points and thoroughly thrashed Troy, 62-45, Saturday in the state Federation Class A championship game at the Times Union Center.
In winning its second Federation title in three years, Lutheran chomped on Troy's guards, frequently making steals before the Flying Horses could get the ball across midcourt. Lutheran built a 60-29 lead early in the fourth quarter before clearing its bench.
"Defense was the key to winning this game," said guard Katie Lavelle, who had five steals and 13 points.
"We knew we were the dominant team. We knew we had it," said forward Stacy Barrett, who contributed a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds and was named to the all-tournament team along with Lavelle.
"We brought the energy. We wanted it and we had confidence," said point guard Boogie Brozoski who had 14 points, five steals and was voted Class A Tournament MVP. "It's a great feeling when everyone is on top of their game."
The feeding frenzy began early, as Lutheran (20-4) forced turnovers on Troy's first four possessions, built a 9-0 lead and never looked back. Barrett had eight points in the first half, when LuHi built a 34-18 lead despite missing some easy shots and shooting only 37 percent from the field. Once that number improved after the break, it was clear sailing.
A 13-2 run early in the third quarter was typical of how the game unfolded: contributions from everyone on the court and plenty of 'Red' to go around. Brozoski started the flurry with a driving layup. Nani Redford hit two free throws and Lavelle made a layup. The Lady Crusaders then stole the inbounds pass and Redford finished, and proceeded to do it again, this time with Barrett scoring off a putback. Lavelle concluded the burst with a three-point play that made it 47-22.
Others joined in the fun. Forward Sade Gibbons had eight rebounds and four steals. Super sub Taylor Byrne contributed seven points. Freshman guard Kaela Hilaire was dynamic in her 12 minutes with four assists, including two no-look beauties.
LuHi was also relentless on the boards, especially the offensive glass where the Lady Crusaders enjoyed a 23-10 advantage that produced 20 second-chance points. Barrett, with seven of her rebounds of the offensive variety, was in the middle of it all. "That's my role, to crash the boards," Barrett said. "I clean up and play defense. We all play defense. We better."
Lutheran coach Rich Slater said, admiringly, of Barrett, "She was an animal. Not many kids are as quick to the ball as she is. She's the first one to get to those putbacks. She's what I call a great second jumper."
Lavelle, who converted two conventional three-point plays, teamed with Brozoski and Redford (three steals) to apply the constant backcourt pressure early that took Troy out of the game. Double-teams turned into triple teams when the Flying Horses dared to pick up the dribble and found they had nowhere to go. "I struggled with my shot all year," Lavelle said, "but my defense is my most important role."
Slater liked what he saw all afternoon. "We took five charges. Our defensive splits were good. We got easy baskets in transition," he said. "We felt we could blitz [double-team] their ball-screens."
He described his game plan as, "Pressure, pressure, pressure. We wanted controlled havoc out there."
A splash of red was all it took.