By Rob Potter
LAKE HUNTINGTON March 7, 2006 Nearly a full 24 hours after the game, the veteran coach still felt the effects of a close, gut-wrenching defeat.
It was my toughest loss in 30 years of coaching, Sullivan West Coach Ron Bernhardt said on Saturday afternoon. We didnt feel like we lost that game.
The heart-breaking defeat to which Bernhardt alluded was the SW Lady Bulldogs 39-37 loss to the Marlboro Lady Dukes the previous evening in a Section IX Class B semifinal at Sullivan West High School in Lake Huntington.
Originally, the contest between No. 2-seeded SW and No. 3-seeded Marlboro was slated to be played on Thursday night at Paul Gerry Fieldhouse on the campus of Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake. But that days inclement weather forced the game as well as all other Section IX boys and girls tournament semifinal games to be postponed. As a result, the higher-seeded Lady Bulldogs hosted the Lady Dukes on Friday night on their home floor.
Marlboro (18-3) held a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
In the second period, the Lady Dukes used a clever match-up zone defense to force some SW turnovers. Marlboro then converted those Lady Bulldog miscues into easy baskets on the other end of the floor to gradually expand its advantage. At halftime, the Lady Dukes enjoyed a 26-16 lead thanks to their good defense and senior guard Marion Casey, who drilled four 3-point shots in the first two quarters.
Marlboro held a 32-21 advantage at the end of the third period.
But the Lady Dukes had to withstand a tremendous comeback by the Lady Bulldogs in the final eight minutes in order to advance to the Class B title game versus top-seeded Highland.
Led by senior co-captains April Ackermann and Kate Fanning and spurred on by a packed house of vociferous parents, fellow students and community members, SW (17-3) utilized outstanding defense and timely baskets to erase Marlboros double-digit lead. With 1:18 remaining, Ackermann scored inside the lane to put the Lady Bulldogs up 37-36. The partisan crowd erupted as the basket gave SW its first lead since late in the opening period.
But with 41.9 seconds remaining, Casey whom Bernhardt noted is a clutch free-throw shooter stepped to the foul line. She calmly made both shots to give the Lady Dukes a 38-37 lead.
Following a timeout, SW sophomore forward Sarah Lander had a good look at the basket as she attempted a 3-pointer from near the top of the key. However, the shot was short and, based upon the way the trajectory of the basketball seemed to change a millisecond after it left Landers hands, more than one SW fan loudly requested that a foul be called on a Marlboro defender.
With 17.8 seconds displayed on the scoreboard, Casey was fouled and returned to the line. She made the first to give the Lady Dukes a two-point advantage. But the second shot was off the mark and Ackermann grabbed the rebound.
As the seconds ticked away, SW had one last chance to tie the game and send it into a four-minute overtime session or win the contest with a 3-pointer.
Unfortunately for the SW faithful, a 3-point shot by Fanning in the final few seconds did not find the bottom of the hoop and the seconds ticked away, ending the Lady Bulldogs outstanding season in which they defeated perennial power John S. Burke Catholic School twice on their way to earning the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) Division IV league championship.
That was an amazing effort in the fourth quarter, Bernhardt said. These kids played great defense and showed the heart of a champion. The fourth quarter was probably the best quarter we played all season.
In those final eight minutes of competition, SW forced two shot-clock violations by Marlboro and held the Lady Dukes without a field goal.
Casey, who made 9-of-14 foul shots, finished the evening with a game-high 21 points. Fellow senior Kanita Boone, who made a couple of key steals in the second period to help the Lady Dukes stifle the SW offensive attack, scored 10 points.
Junior guard Taylor Drozenski added six points for the Lady Dukes.
Our zone defense confused them and forced some turnovers, Marlboro Coach Jonnah ODonnell said. Our defense was the key [to victory] tonight.
Sullivan West is a great team and I told my team that we needed to play our A game to beat them, ODonnell added.
Ackermann, who was 4-of-5 at the free-throw line, paced the SW offense with 16 points. Fanning, who swished a trio of 3-pointers, netted 13 points.
Lander, a sophomore forward, recorded five points.
Note: In Sunday afternoons Class B title game at SUNY New Paltz, top-seeded Highland defeated Marlboro 54-45.
Highland (20-2) advanced to the state tournament and will face Section I Class B champion Nanuet at 7 p.m. tonight at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.
Marlboro ended its season at 18-4.