Taryn Barbot of St. Mary's maneuvers around Sacred Heart's Annie...

Taryn Barbot of St. Mary's maneuvers around Sacred Heart's Annie Kiernan during a CHSAA girls basketball semifinal playoff game at SUNY Farmingdale on Sunday, February 26, 2023. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

It’s a rarity for a defending state champion to return the vast majority of its core the following season. But that’s exactly the situation the St. Mary’s girls basketball team has found itself in this winter. And although the Gaels have tried not to look too far ahead this season, they’ve now reached the stage where that next opponent will decide a champion.

Top-seeded St. Mary’s defeated No. 4 Sacred Heart, 63-41, in the CHSAA ‘AA’  girls basketball semifinals at Farmingdale State Sunday afternoon.

St. Mary’s (22-4) looks to win its second straight CHSAA league title when it meets No. 3 St. Anthony’s (19-6) in the CHSAA ‘AA’ final at Hofstra at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Taryn Barbot led St. Mary’s with 20 points. She is one of four key seniors, along with twin sister Taylor Barbot, Tara Murray and Cayla Williams that were integral pieces to last season’s state championship run.

“This means a lot to us,” Taryn said. “We want to go back-to-back with the state and league championships. We’re looking to keep working harder every game.”

“We’ve been looking forward to this all season,” added Murray, who scored 13 points. “Our goal is the league and then states.”

Sacred Heart (14-7) plays Our Lady Of Mercy (19-5) in a qualifying game for the state CHSAA ‘A’ tournament at Hofstra at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The winner of that contest plays the loser of St. Anthony’s/St. Mary’s to clinch a spot in the state tournament.

St. Mary’s opened a 33-20 lead at halftime after a three-pointer by Kayla Solomon with five seconds left in the half. The Gaels ended the first quarter on a 12-0 run to take a 19-9 lead. Sacred Heart was unable to get within single digits in the second half.

“Senior leadership is huge,” coach Kevin White said. “The four seniors have done a great job setting the standard for others. We’re going to miss them next year even though my young ones are very, very good. But they set the tone for them.”

And they bring more than just leadership. St. Mary’s has developed supreme chemistry on the court with the ability to score in spurts and move the ball around the floor.

“We always find the open person, we’re looking for people and we are even stronger from last year,” Taryn said. “Most of the team came back from last year so we have great chemistry.”

Annie Kiernan led Sacred Heart with 20 points and Haylee Ellwood added 14 points.

St. Mary’s defeated Monsignor Scanlan, 59-42, in the state CHSAA ‘AA’ final last season. The returning players want to repeat the euphoric feeling and the new players want to experience it for themselves.

“We’ve been working for this for a long time,” Murray said. “We were ready for this. We’re ready.”

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