Here is some additional insight and analysis as well as quotes following Wednesday’s Nassau Class A semifinals at Freeport.
Starting with the game between No. 1 North Shore and No. 5 Floral Park. Floral Park implored everything in their arsenal, including an often overlooked substitution rule, in an effort to slow down North Shore and their pedal-to-the-metal ‘System’.
The Vikings led early on but the Knights hung in and the game was tied at 15 after the first quarter. Floral Park took over the lead in the second quarter, in part because the fouls were 7-1 in their favor with 4:40 to go in the half/ The Knights had a narrow 27-26 lead at the break and the fouls suddenly went from 7-1 to 8-7, it’s almost as if this Indiana University study was played out in real time.
No one player showed particular mettle in the first half. North Shore had contributions from four of its primary scorers and Floral Park was balanced with nothing particularly eye-catching offensively. The defensive play from both teams, including North Shore’s Nicole Scuderi and Erin Sheerin against Kaela Hilaire was impressive, as well as Floral Park’s ability to slow down the North Shore offense.
Floral Park took firm control in the third quarter and led 44-32 with two minutes to go in the frame after Hilaire made her fifth basket of the evening. From that point, North Shore went on a 19-2 run to take a 51-46 lead in the fourth quarter.
Amanda Johansen had 12 points during that stretch, single-handedly taking over the game to put the Vikings in control. Each team had plenty of timeouts in the fourth and Floral Park used some in an attempt to stop the proverbial bleeding while North Shore was riding the momentum and playing its top six.
Vikings coach Keith Freund went to his thoroughbreds in the final eight minutes, relying entirely on Johansen, Sheerin, Alexandra Cantwell, Scuderi, Caroline Robertson and Christine Castiglione. Floral Park would eventually lose top defender Valerie Fox to a cramp and Lorraine Hickman (14 points) fouled out with 1:06 left.
Once North Shore took over the lead it never relinquished control. Hilaire got the Knights as close as 53-51 but that was as close as it got. The Vikings didn’t do themselves any favors from the foul line in the fourth. North Shore went 4-for-16 from the free throw line, including misses on its first 10 attempts.
Cantwell (13 points) sealed the 61-54 win for North Shore with three steals in the final 1:30.
North Shore guard Alexandra Cantwell:
On the fourth quarter:
I think that we needed, since we were down we needed to keep up the intensity we needed to pick up the pace of our game and not go down their level. Stay at our level of play and I think that we did that and we were able to take the lead and then hold it from there.
On going to the county finals:
It’s so great to know that this is the farthest we’ve ever been in North Shore basketball and I’m really proud to be part of it.
North Shore point guard Amanda Johansen:
On how this win compares to winning the county lacrosse title in 2011:
That felt amazing. I hope we can have that same feeling again. I really think this team, the way we work and how we put in so much effort every time we step on this court I really think it’s a possibility.
On what she thought in the fourth quarter:
At halftime we all were talking about how we were getting a little nervous and we can’t get like that. We have to stay composed. After the third quarter we decided to get our heads in the game and we talked and we made sure that it was going to be our game. We had to take control, we had to work together. Right when we started working hard together and staying focused everything started to mesh and it worked out for us.
On Alex Cantwell:
Alex is an absolutely unbelievable player. She can see the ball everywhere on the court and when you don’t expect it she comes up with these crazy steals. When she has the ball in her hands you’re confident with her you now she’s looking to score you know she can create plays. This was a huge game for her, she led her team today.
North Shore coach Keith Freund:
On what he thought in the fourth quarter:
Honestly we have not been in that spot the whole year besides Kings Park. The first time the whole year we were down in the third quarter and down pretty sizeable. I said to them, ‘we really could not have played any worse.’ Give them all the credit in the world, they played their tails off. I said to the girls, ‘if you outwork every team you’ll be successful.’ They worked out us equally over the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter I think our legs allowed us to outwork them in the fourth quarter. Plus I went to our final five very early this time.
On his decision to go with his top six in the fourth:
Knowing that I had four timeouts, knowing that these girls had fresh legs and I feel that while our depth is our best asset, our top five are better than everyone’s top five. I felt like once they broke the ice with a layup it really started us going.
On the free throws in the fourth quarter;
I said to the girls, ‘you just beat a very good team by seven points shooting 4-of-16 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.’ I said what that means is if we outwork teams, even on poor shooting nights, we can still hang.’ It was brutal.
Om going to the finals:
I am so proud of these girls. I said on the bus today coming here this has not been a one-year thing. This has been a six-seven year thing of these girls going to open gyms, we were in Villanova camp 120 degrees in July eight games they didn’t complain once. We have 90 open gyms a year, camps, clinics. This senior group has really led the push of making it a full-time thing while playing three sports so I am so proud of them. This was not given to them.
Floral Park coach Michael Spina:
On the game:
It was a dogfight and we lost Alex Baldini, we lost Valerie with a cramp. Their pressure is so good and they’re so deep that we wore down a little bit. I give them credit, they just kept fighting. I thought that when we went up that maybe they would start feeling a little pressure, get a little tight, and to their credit especially Johansen. Johansen just took over and she’s a great player, they’re a great team. Losing the two girls hurt us a little bit. I’m so proud of this team and great future.
On what he thought when North Shore kept missing free throws:
Part of that is they’re tired. They’re tired from playing defense. You sit there saying that foul shots are a gimme but they’re not. Not when you’re that tired and you work that hard on defense. We had a chance, we make a layup, we hit a three that doesn’t go in-and-out, and we made some mistakes but give our girls credit they kept fighting until the end.
Moving on to the second semifinal in which No. 2 Garden City defeated No. 3 Lynbrook, 41-36, to advance to the county finals for the second straight season. After a 2011 campaign headlined by three-sport superstar and now Notre Dame lacrosse player, Barbara Sullivan, the Trojans are a more balanced team in 2012 and the most productive player offensively has been freshman point guard Samantha Auricchio.
Garden City won each quarter but the margin was never more than two points. This was a matchup which if it were it were a series, may be the most competitive of any two teams on all of Long Island. Garden City’s deep and senior-laden squad up against Brooke Gerstman and role players Danielle Amaya, Sam Baker and Joelle Church.
There were eight lead changes, all in the first half, as Garden City took a 17-15 lead. Gerstman took over in the second half, scoring 14 of her game-high 19 points after the break but it was not enough. Right when Garden City was on the precipice of taking over the game, Gerstman would bring the Owls back to within a shot or two of the lead.
The Trojans led 40-31 in the fourth but Gerstman made a three and Church made a layup to cut the gap to four. Garden City made a free throw with 3:23 to go and neither team scored after that.
It was the last competitive basketball game in Gerstman’s great career and her talent has been evident all season, particularly in the playoffs, and no competitor or opposing coach has had a negative word to say about one of, if not the best player in Nassau’s public schools this season.
Garden City coach Anthony Sparacia:
On returning to the finals:
It feels great. Two years in a row. The kids worked so hard defensively. I can’t say enough about them defensively. Shots didn’t fall early. Auricchio got hot, Ryan hit that big three and again Mangels on the glass just controlled the whole glass.
On Jess Stein’s defense against Gerstman:
I thought she was outstanding. We worked on it the last couple of days in practice. Her step back. Her step back because she gains so much ground on that step back it’s almost impossible to defend. She beat us I think three times in the second half on that step back but Jess otherwise was great. She got through screens really well. Liz Stutzman on the bench and in the game screaming, ‘screen left, screen right,’ that is the key because Jess wasn’t paying attention to the ball when Gerstman didn’t have it so you got to let her know where screens and that was a big thing, our communication.
On how to prepare for North Shore in three days:
We hope to get some of the boys in the gym, a little scrimmage with the boys to simulate their speed. The biggest thing is we’ll practice against seven girls trapping, things like that. My girls saw it today, we have some film, but you really can’t get a sense. Very hard to prepare for that until we get out on the floor. My kids, sometimes they don’t know how to lose. The last couple of year they don’t know how to lose sometimes and when you have a Christina Mangels inside, you have kids who can shoot, kids with a high IQ, it’s great to have.
Garden City guard Jess Stein:
On matching up with Gerstman:
I just try not to be intimidated by her. My coach gave me a lot of tips on how to guard her so I just kept that in mind. She’s really good at that I got to give her props.
On what she thought when Gerstman made three-pointers:
It’s really just ‘what are you going to do?’ She’s a great player and you got to take what you can get. I tried to stay on her as much as I could.
Garden City point guard Sam Auricchio:
On how it feels to go the county finals:
It feels awesome. Being a part of the team, this is my second year. Everyone played together when we pulled out the win and it was awesome to go to counties again.
Lynbrook point guard Brooke Gerstman:
On the game:
All I can say is I’m really proud of my team for where we have gotten. We were conference champions, didn’t even know we would make it to the semifinals and to be one of the last four teams in the entire Nassau County A is such an accomplishment. It (stinks) to lose but you know what? You win some, you lose some.
On what she thought going into the fourth quarter:
We’re usually a fourth-quarter team. I go into the fourth quarter saying, ‘I’m not losing this game.’ I’ve been on a mission this entire year. But still sometimes it just doesn’t end up happening. It didn’t flow.
On her game:
I think I really settled for too many outside shots the entire game. I really needed to establish the drive first so that I can get the open outside shots and that’s really why I struggled the entire game. At the end of the game Joelle set some nice screens, Danny set some nice screens for the outside game. I wasn’t going to miss them, I missed enough already.
On ger last of competitive basketball:
I couldn’t be more proud of my team. I wouldn’t have wanted to be at a better place on my last game. It’s just been such an amazing career.