Eldred Outlasts Late Tri-Valley’s Surge In Epic Non-League Battle Of Hardwood Heavyweights; Lady Yellow Jackets Add Another Notch In The Gun Of Bigger School Wins As Teams Gear Up For Sectionals
Eldred 55, Tri-Valley 51
By RICHARD A. ROSS
Photos at: www.sportsiny.com
GRAHAMSVILLE, NY—Great fighters not only can deliver staggering punches, they can also take them and remain standing.
In the maelstrom of the upcoming Section IX tournament, and for the winners thereof bound for the arduous gauntlet of the state rounds leading towards the Holy Grail of a state crown, teams will have to marshal enormous mettle both offensively and defensively in order to survive.
Given the tenacity of both the victorious Eldred Lady Yellow Jackets (15-3) and their feisty and resilient adversary Tri-Valley Lady Bears (10-8) that was on display in Eldred’s 55-51 win, one of the most compelling games this writer has been privy to this season, it is clear that both of these teams have the potential to make serious runs for glory.
Needless to say the operative word here is potential, for there is no crystal ball to inform as to what may transpire over the course of the coming frays. In the win-or-go home crucible of postseason play, every game is a sulfuric acid test of will, dexterity, focus and execution.
Mistakes such as those committed by Tri-Valley, namely turning the ball over 23 times in the first half, can be prescriptions for disaster. On the flip side, the ability to steady the keel in the roughest of waters, such as that evinced by the Lady Bears, can turn a potential defeat into a sterling victory.
In a game that initially looked like it was going to be an Eldred blowout with a domineering 16-4 first quarter, avid onlookers from both communities would be privy to a remarkable ebb and flow as the Lady Bears would battle back, particularly in the second half to bring this game to razor’s edge of a two-point Eldred lead with a scant 41.5 seconds to go.
Basketball is undeniably a team game. Cohesive, unselfish play brings victories.
That said, there are players who are game-changers, those elite athletes who can literally take a team on their backs in clutch times and see them through a rough patch and/or to a storied win.
In this set-to of arguably the two best girls teams in Sullivan County, those strident warrior honors belonged to Tri-Valley’s Sara Dertinger and Danielle Shafarsky and most emblematically to Eldred’s Jordan Lepes ably abetted by big girl Kelsey Collins.
Bear with me as I elaborate on each of their outstanding contributions before narrating the details of the game itself.
Were it not for Dertinger’s fervid second quarter play in which she scored 11 of T-V’s 18 points and single-handedly provided the spark the moribund Lady Bears so desperately needed, this story would have been a briefer one for sure.
Prior to the game Eldred coach Ryan Jasper defined Dertinger as one of his greatest concerns, noting her solid, intense and consistent play and her unflappable poise. His words rang true as the stalwart senior chopped away at Eldred’s imposing lead during the second quarter diminishing the margin to a slender six before Eldred recouped to make it a 15-point bulge by the half at 37-22.
As for Shafarsky, her heroics came late with some huge shots that put Tri-Valley in a position to pull off what would have been a humongous upset given Eldred’s large leads. The deft shooter posted 17 points, 15 of which came in the second half. She had eight in the third quarter as Jasper sat Collins and standout guard Sheila Burns, each with three fouls.
And even with the return of those two mainstays, Shafarsky scored seven points in the fourth quarter. She was the Lady Bears’ leading scorer. Dertinger had 13 by night’s end.
The impact Collins had on this game, and indeed in general does not always show up in points scored, though to her credit she provided 12 points to this victory. A rebounding machine who can put up shot-after-shot, Collins had a sequence of four consecutive offensive rebounds in fourth quarter crunch time to marshal a shot and a free throw. Seeing her go up time and time again against her shorter adversaries, one can understand the value of her height and her wingspan.
But in this litany of noteworthy honors I had to save the best for last.
Jordan Lepes is nothing short of exceptional. As T-V Coach Jason Closs noted, “when she gets going at full speed she is very, very tough to defend. Lepes was the game’s Most Valuable Player. She showed the ability to handle Tri-Valley’s immense pressure, dribbling through traffic and slashing to the rim with fearless agility.
Her 29 points that included 12-0f-18 from the stripe, particularly those made in the game’s waning moments demarked her as a big game player. Lepes is the eighth leading scorer in Section IX.
Games have their unsung heroes too and for Eldred playing without the services of Collins and Sheila Burns for the entire third quarter, Eldred only gave away five points of its 15 point halftime advantage. Jasper would have plenty to say about that after the emotional win. Big minutes were provided by non-starters Jenna Burns, Alaina Gaughan and Kate Reiser.
It should be noted that Eldred which is second only to Wallkill for having the most girls win in Section IX, only lost to Class C Pine Plains and Tuxedo and Class A Port Jervis. The latter game they nearly won and when they faced the Lady Bombers they had only five players in tow.
They marshaled two wins over Class C Tri-Valley and victories over Class C Seward, Chester, Sullivan West and Class B Fallsburg. Not too shabby.
The Devil Is In The Details.
Eldred controlled the opening tip as Lepes out-leaped Tri-Valleys Sandra Alemany. Both teams traded turnovers in the early jitters but Tri-Valley’s woes became unbelievably gruesome with a spate of unforced turnovers as players had lapses of focus and threw the ball away time after time.
After an early 4-2 lead, Eldred ran off a 12-2 run. Lepes had nine points in the first quarter that included a trey. Collins had six and Alyssa McGrail hit one of two from the stripe.
By night’s end Eldred would be 14-for-26 from the line (53.8%). Tri-Valley would post 15-of-24 (62.5%). Shafarsky had the other lone bucket for the struggling Lady Bears in that opening stanza and that came with just 25 seconds remaining on a nice pass from Caroline Martin.
The Lady Bears fought back in the second quarter but still were outscored 21-18.
Eldred’s Jenna Burns had the first bucket of the second quarter which she scored with inordinate pressure on her. She added a free throw to make it 19-4, Eldred’s biggest lead of the night to that point.
Alemany answered right back but Eldred recaptured the 15-point bulge after a Collins rebound led to a bucket by Destinee Arnold. A T-V turnover led to run out by Lepes for the 23-6 lead, a remarkable 17-point edge. Dertinger iced two from the line. Lepes hit one-of-two from the stripe before Dertinger scored a bucket. Eldred turned it over and Dertinger scored again, adding a free throw for spice as the lead shrank further. Another Eldred turnover flagged a shift in the momentum. The lead was down to nine as the cheerleaders fired up the crowd with chants of “Let’s go Bears.”
Ashley Johnson’s bucket cut the lead to seven before Collins scored down low to stop the bleeding. T-V turned it over again but got it back as Martin was fouled and cut the lead to 26-20 with 2:34 to go. Again it was Collins down low as the lead began to go back up. Eldred would go on an 11-2 run to close out the second quarter to marshal the 37-22 lead at the break. Lepes had eight points in the stanza and Collins had four of Eldred’s 21.
In the third quarter Tri-Valley did a better job of pushing its defense out further forcing Eldred to go laterally. Without Collins and Burns on the floor, Eldred’s offensive sets looked more tentative. The result: only nine points scored by Eldred to Tri-Valley’s 14 in the stanza
Eldred held a 46-36 lead heading into the fourth quarter as T-V’s Ashley Johnson scored the final bucket of the quarter.
Both teams would soon be in the bonus making fouls and the resulting free throws more significant as the final eight minutes progressed.
T-V inbounded by turned it right over. Martin got a steal and Alemany was fouled. She missed both from the stripe. Martin was soon to the line and hit both to cut the lead to 46-38. A bucket from Dertinger sliced the margin to six. Jenna Burns fouled Martin who proceeded to hit one of two to make it a 46-41. With 6:10 to go Eldred still had not scored until Lepes raced straight through the lane to score two big points. Shafarsky cut the deficit to 48-43. Martin hit one of two, Alemany missed the put back and it was Lepes who came away with the rebound.
A key turnover by Eldred with 5:00 to go and the score at 48-44 had the home crowd humming.
Dertinger missed a trey and Lepes blanked on a lay up. The clock now read 4:33. An unforced T-V turnover was a prelim to a T-V foul putting Jenna Burns on the line. She missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Bears had the rock back again.
Ashley Johnson barely missed a lay up in the lane that would have cut it to two. Eldred took a timeout.
Ashley Johnson was fouled and hit both two cut the lead to two but at the other end of the floor Collins scored via four offensive rebounds. That bucket was huge. Shafarsky’s three rimmed out and Lepes scored the other way as in the blink of an eye Eldred was rediscovering its moxie. It was now 52-46 with 3:04 but T-V wasn’t done yet.
Gaughan’s trey wouldn’t drop. Eldred got the rebound but Alemany got a steal and scored to make it 52-48. T-V missed and Eldred had the ball with 1:50 to go and a four-point lead. In a stunning sequence a Martin miss, followed by an Alemany miss resulted in a dish to Shafarsky who scored from the wing. It was now 52-50. Eldred had the ball with 1:19 to go looking to run time off the clock. They didn’t score.
A late turnover by T-V gave Eldred the ball back but Eldred lost it on the dribble. With 1:08 the Lady Bears had the ball with a chance to tie. Jenna Burns missed a free throw but soon the ball was off T-V
It was now 41.5 seconds to go as Eldred inbounded the ball with 15 seconds left on the shot clock. Martin fouled Lepes who hit both to make it 54-50. T-V nixed on its next trip up the floor as Eldred had the ball with 15.1 seconds remaining in the game. T-V need a steal off the inbounds but failed to do so.
Lepes hit one free throw but missed the second one. Collins fouled Sharfarsky how hit one of two for the final tally as Eldred held on to win 55-51.
An elated Jasper talked about the game: “We were talking all week about trying to deliver the knockout punch right away. But this is one of the best girls basketball programs in the county. These guys are good every year for a reason. Jason is one of the best coaches around. We knew at halftime, I said to the girls don’t think you’re not going to get their best shot,” he noted.
Jasper advised his second half starters to milk the shot clock down to ten seconds on every possession while Burns and Collins rode the bench. When and if the lead would drop below ten they were destined to return. “But those kids weathered the storm,” he added. “They didn’t give up an inch.”
Jasper gave big props to Lepes. “She never wavers. You don’t see a kid that talented very often. I said to her, Jordan if you ever see the rim you go every single time or else pull the ball back out and we’ll work this thing down as close as we can.”
The nip and tuck waning closeness was no surprise to Jasper. “Are you kidding me? With Jason and these kids? Absolutey not. There’s a reason they’re good every single year and they always bounce back. It wouldn’t surprise me if they won the Section,” he noted.
The winner of Section IX will play the Section IV champion which will be either Delhi or South Kortright, the number-one Class D girls team in the state. South Kortright is currently at 18-0. Eldred plays Livingston Manor for the Section Nine title on March 4 at Sullivan County Community Colletge at 5:00 pm.
Jason Closs said, “What it came down to was we just gave them a little too much. We battled and continued to get after it and they couldn’t deliver that punch. I just think we did a lot of things in that first half to make it very difficult for ourselves. We had 23 turnovers . Against a good team you just can’t have those numbers. A lot of those were because we were forcing passes. Many of those were unforced turnovers where we just threw the ball over the top.”
He went on to say, “I know as a team we’re better than that. In the second half we did clean up a lot of that, started rebounding and we were more aggressive with the ball but still setting up when we needed to,” he added.
“In that first half Sara Dertinger put us on her back and also defending Kelsey. On both sides of the ball she really gave us a lift. Danielle gave us a couple of big shots to start the momentum.”
Closs didn’t feel this loss would have any effect on the Sectionals. “I’m fully confident that we’ll bounce back.”
Tri-Valley will host Pine Plains on March 3 in a rematch of last year’s final. With 6-3 Ashley Starzyk in the middle, the Lady Bombers have that interior size advantage but Closs has seen film of Pine Plains and hopes to have a strategy in place.
This was Tri-Valley’s third game in four nights, all intense frays against Chester and Tuxedo and Eldred. “Fatigue wasn’t a factor. It didn’t come down to that,” he noted.
“Early on Eldred did some things that our other opponents did not do. If it came down to anything it was a lack of practice and preparation for them specifically.
Our endurance is going to be an advantage. I don’t know many teams that could paly three games in four nights in intense and demanding games and be able to finish with that energy. Our girls have a lot of heart.,” he concluded.
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