By Rob Potter
NEW PALTZ For the first time in 31 years, the Tri-Valley Lady Bears are sectional basketball champions.
No. 1 seed T-V claimed the Section IX Class C title by defeating the third-seeded Millbrook Lady Blazers, 40-27, on Sunday afternoon at SUNY New Paltz.
T-V, which also won the Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) Div. V regular season championship, improved its record to 18-1 on the season. The Lady Bears’ next game will be at 5:45 p.m. tomorrow when they face Section I champion Haldane at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh in the opening round of the state tournament.
After a very low-scoring first quarter when both teams were working out the jitters of playing for a sectional title in an NCAA atmosphere in front of hundreds of people, T-V took control in the second quarter.
The Lady Bears outscored the Lady Blazers 13-2 in those eight minutes of competition. As the scoreboard clock read 7:00, senior guard Jakki Pugh scored to bring T-V within a point at 5-4. Less than a minute later, Hope Costa made a jump shot to give the Lady Bears their first lead of the game.
With 2:25 remaining in the quarter, Millbrook’s Allie Kohut scored to cut the Lady Bears’ lead to 9-7. But T-V ended the quarter with a 6-0 run as Pugh made a 3-point shot and a free throw and Sabrena Smith made a pair of foul shots.
With 3:39 remaining in the third quarter, Kaitlynn Greffrath made an 18-foot jump shot to stretch the Lady Bears’ advantage to 23-14.
Millbrook’s Savannah Rose made a 3-point shot with 20.4 seconds left in the quarter to bring her team within five at 24-19. But T-V’s Mareena DiMilia scored inside the lane with seven seconds remaining to give her team a 26-19 lead going into the final eight minutes of play.
With 4:08 left in the fourth period, Erin Smith grabbed a rebound and immediately put up a shot from close range to give T-V its first double-digit lead of the afternoon at 35-24.
Millbrook’s Mackenzie Harkenrider made a 3-pointer with 2:53 to go to cut the Lady Bears’ lead to 36-27.
But Pugh scored the last four points of the game, including both ends of a 1-and-1 at the foul line with 26.1 seconds remaining to seal T-V’s victory.
Pugh scored a game-high 17 points, while Greffrath finished with nine points and DiMilia had six points.
“This is awesome,” Pugh said of winning the sectional championship in her senior season. “It’s been a great four seasons.”
Pugh, who earlier this season reached the 1,000-point milestone, and DiMilia are the team’s co-captains and happily accepted the Section IX Class C championship plaque on behalf of their teammates and coaches.
DiMilia, a sophomore forward, picked up two fouls late in the first quarter and didn’t return to the game until the third quarter. Like many of the players in those first eight minutes of the contest, she was nervous about competing in such an atmosphere.
“I was pacing and I couldn’t sit down,” DiMilia said of leaving the game because of those two fouls. “I can’t even think of a word to describe the butterflies.”
But in the second half, DiMilia and her teammates were focused on winning for themselves, their coaches and the hundreds of T-V fans who cheered so loudly throughout the game. And, of course, winning the game for Pugh.
“Everything we do is for Jakki,” DiMilia said.
T-V Coach John Tenbus was thrilled to win a sectional title in his first year of leading the Lady Bears’ varsity team.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “This is a great group of players. At the end of the game when the basketball was in Jakki’s hands, we were in good shape.”
Tenbus also knew that winning the title would not be easy.
“Millbrook has a great team,” he said.
But Tenbus credited his team’s good effort and hard work in practices and games all season for paying off with a sectional championship plaque. Moments after accepting that plaque and their championship T-shirts and patches, all of the T-V players, managers and coaches ran over to the other side of court to wave to and acknowledge those hundreds of loyal fans who made the trip to New Paltz.
Mackenzie Harkenrider led the Lady Blazers with 13 points and Allie Kohut added six points.
“We had too many turnovers,” Millbrook Coach Heather Iannucci said.
While acknowledging that T-V played a great game, especially on defense, Iannucci also praised her players.
“They didn’t quit,” she said of the Lady Blazers. “They kept working hard.”