Tri-umphant Valley Sees Its Storied Run End Against Perennial Powerhouse Haldane In NYSPHSAA Class C Regional Semifinals; Fourth Quarter Blue Devils’ Outburst Dooms Lady Bears Who Never Found Their Scoring Punch; 18-1 Season Is Best In Lady Bears’ History As Heroic Seniors Exit The Stage
Haldane 53, Tri-Valley 27
By RICHARD A. ROSS
Photos at: www.sportsinsights.smugmug.com
WHITE PLAINS, NY— As the years go by when I think back on the 2014 Tri-Valley Lady Bears, they will forever live on for me in that frozen storied happy cluster of a group hug, captured in that sequence of photos I shot following their historic Section IX title win over Pine Plains.
For their families, their remarkable coach Jason Closs, their friends, their school, their community and most resolutely for the Lady Bears themselves, that joy of completing a championship 18-0 Section IX tour of duty in such an uplifting fashion will remain with them for the rest of their days, long outlasting the tears and disappointment they registered from losing to Haldane 53-27 in the regional semifinals.
“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose unto heaven.”
So go the opening lines from Ecclesiastes adapted in the song “Turn, Turn, Turn,” sung by the Byrds.
—“A time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance..”
Those oft-quoted biblical lines, like other instances of reckoning with the law of opposites cited in the verses, remind us about the cycle of life wherein things are subject to change.
Such is the way of the world.
Even though we understand this intellectually, change can often surprise, mystify and disturb us when it does arrive, as if somehow we could make all that is fine and wonderful go on without end.
Fresh off of their remarkable Section IX title win, the Lady Bears looked to keep it going. “We want it all,” senior Katlynn Greffrath had told me when asked if she felt the team would be satisfied after garnering the coveted “One More Title” they had wholeheartedly striven to acquire.
But to keep going along the road to the Final Four in Troy, the Lady Bears would have to get by Haldane, the Section One juggernaut that handed the 2011 T-V team led by Jakki Pugh its exit visa with a 64-40 win at Mount St. Mary College.
Back then freshman Katlynn Greffath and Sabrena Smith along with junior varsity call up eight grader Caroline Martin were there and ever since then they have worked assiduously to recapture the Section IX title and to enter the state foray again.
So here they were again. And here too again was Haldane.
Coach Jason Closs and a couple of his players had scouted Haldane as it ousted Keio last Saturday for its 21st Section One title since acquiring its first Golden Ball back in 1989. Ever since 2011 Haldane has been conspicuously absent from the regionals having succumbed to Alexander Hamilton in 2012 and 2013.
Bred 12 months a year in AAU basketball headed up by their coach Tyrone Seawright, the Lady Blue Devils play the kind of ball you can only marshal with year-round rigors. Team chemistry needed to win at the ethereal levels doesn’t coalesce as an interlude between soccer and softball or other variations of fall and spring sports.
Scouting Haldane revealed a tough-opponent to be. But until you play a team of this caliber you never really quite know what you’re in for.
Section One awards that lovely golden orb to its champions and since 1989 Haldane has won that Golden globe 21 times in 25 years.
That uncanny success included 15 consecutive titles from 1992-2006 even after moving from Class D to Class C in 2004. Along the way they won the state championship five times including that first year of 1989 and again in ’96, ’98, 2000 and 2008.
Haldane has been the bane of existence for Class D and C Section IX teams ousting Roscoe four times, Manor and Seward twice each, Eldred three times, Delaware Valley once and Tri-Valley now twice. There may have been other instances too, but that was all I turned up in my quick perusal, as if that list wasn’t enough to prove the point.
One of these days perhaps a Section IX David will emerge with the right rock that can slay this Goliath. But this wasn’t the year.
Now Haldane moves on the NYSPHSAA Regional Finals to play Friends Academy with the winner heading to the state Final Four, a place Haldane has visited with startling regularity.
I’ve known about Haldane since the late 90’s when they lambasted the girls at Livingston Manor who had won their sectional title. Like Tri-Valley, they were a very good team within the context of local adversaries but when it came to Haldane, they found themselves in another realm.
It didn’t help that they had already convinced themselves they didn’t have a chance before they even played them. In my English Class I chided them for feeling as if they could never win.
Fortunately Tri-Valley seemed unaffected by any aura of Haldane mystique.
Of course I kept the details of Haldane’s past dominance under my hat so as not to plant any doubts in the minds of the upbeat and extremely talented Lady Bears. Besides, that was all past history and this was the present. Games begin at 0-0 and armed with great determination and courage, any team can pull off an upset.
But even with great aspirations and untrammeled bravery in tow, you have to score to win and on this lone occasion this year, the Lady Bears suddenly faltered, watching as their shots refused to fall time and time again.
It’s uncanny to see a high scoring team suddenly go cold. But it happens.
Defensively they did a splendid job holding Haldane to just nine points over the course of the second and third quarter after falling behind by nine in the first quarter. Tri-Valley trailed 21-12 at the end of the first stanza.
Junior Caroline Martin had kept the Bears from succumbing to an early knockout punch as she scored half of the Lady Bears’ points in the opening stanza and worked assiduously on defense, doing her best to keep Haldane within reach.
Tri-Valley’s first quarter was the only one in which it could marshal double digit scoring. As good as they would be defensively in the second and third quarter in which they held Haldane to four and five points respectively, they could not kickstart the offense they needed to gain the upper hand and in the process they expended every ounce of energy working assiduously at both ends of the floor.
Substitutions were crucial and the Lady Bears got hard-fought minutes from Ashley Exner, Danielle Shafarsky and Kayla Butler. Fouls mandated such changes as well as the chance to give players a needed respite from the grueling pace of the game. Haldane’s agenda was to burn up its opponents by wearing them to a frazzle.
Trailing by a mere four points at 25-21 at the outset of the third quarter after a steal and bucket by Martin, Tri-Valley which was only behind by six at the half (25-19) would score only six more points for the rest of the game.
Things went south in a hurry as Haldane opened the fourth quarter with 18 unanswered points, ten of which were scored by standout junior Allie Monteleone.
All night long Tri-Valley’s big guns remained silent as Katlynn Greffrath would score just four points, all of which came in the first half. Sabrena Smith, the team’s second leading scorer during the season could manage only three points on the night, all consigned to the first quarter. Martin led with ten and junior Sara Dertinger had six.
Credit Haldane’s defensive mix for much of T-V’s troubles but truth be told, the Lady Bears missed a spate of open shots. It was just one of those nights. During those lean second and third quarters both teams struggled mightily missing 45 of their combined 55 shots.
In the second half Tri-Valley converted only four of 25 shots. You just cannot win with that kind of offensive misfiring. The Lady Bears also failed to get to the line enough though early on it looked as if they might get Haldane into some foul difficulty as they arrived at the line for seven attempts. But they only converted two of those (29%). In the second half they never got to the line at all.
My readers seem to love play-by-play details so here we go from the tip which was controlled by Haldane.
Two quick buckets from senior Jess Harrison and junior sharpshooter Allie Monteleone were answered by the first bucket by Martin who soon drew her first foul. Monteleone hit two from the stripe for the 6-2 lead.
Haldane freshman Marissa Lisikatos had the task of guarding Greffrath. She quickly picked her pocket and Harrison scored in transition. Tri-Valley was seeing its mirror image, a team that loves to do just what they do..steal and run. Tri-Valley had 11 turnovers in the first quarter enroute to 26 on the night to Haldane’s 14.
Haldane was killing Tri-Valley on the glass so the Lady Bears would have few put back attempts. A Sara Dertinger bucket gave the Lady Bears four points. By now Haldane had ten. Martin added two more but Haldane now led 13-6. Monteleone would account for 11 of Haldane’s 21 first quarter points. She showed the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, hit the long shot or drive the lane to score. Her first quarter flurry included a trey. Harrison would have four and senior guard Cali Schweikhart had six.
T-V amassed 12 in that opening stanza getting six from Martin, three from Smith (which would be all she’d score for the rest of the game), two from Dertinger and a lone free throw from Greffrath.
Haldane inbounded to start the second quarter but only got a lone bucket from senior Samantha Lisikatos and one from Allie Monteleone. T-V’s defense was immensely impressive. Haldane seemed out of sync offensively. But T-V could only manage a trey from Greffrath and a bucket apiece from Martin and Dertinger. It was the only period in which they would outscore Haldane, which as noted led 25-19 at the break.
The third quarter was similar. Samantha Lisikatos was two-for-two from the stripe. Monteleone had a bucket and hit one of two from the line. T-V got lone buckets from Martin and Danielle Shafarsky. Haldane led 30-23 heading into the final eight minutes.
Then all hell broke loose.
T-V seemed tired, something they managed to make other teams suffer from all year. Haldane meanwhile had switched from a man, to a zone press to their inimical favorite press on defense. They looked fresh, profited from one and done T-V shots, ran the floor and got to the line.
In no time at all they had 18 points added to the ledger while T-V had added none. Of those 18 points, the Blue Devils profited from a pair of threes from freshman Marissa Lisikatos. Monteleone would post 11 points including five of six from the stripe. Her freshman sister Hannah had two points as did Samantha Lisakatos.
The game was clearly no longer salvageable but the Lady Bears refused to quit. But one by one they began to foul out as each headed to the bench with tears in evidence. Colleen Jones was first, followed by Smith, the Greffrath and Martin. The only ones to score in the fourth quarter were Dertinger and Shafarsky. Haldane had outscored Tri-Valley 23 -4 in those final eight minutes.
There is no describing the end for seniors..the finality of it all, realizing your high school career has just ended. I’ve been courtside too many times to mention to witness this rite of passage.
It always hurts.
I have included a few shots of those moments in the photo album. It is important to remember that life brings such a sharp antithesis of experiences, but also to note that moments like these don’t endure. They are soon supplanted by the more joyous moments that preceded them.
Tri-Valley ended its season at 18-1, the best in the lore of the school girls basketball history. Haldane improved to 15-6. Defeats came against powerful teams like Dobbs Ferry, Lakeland, Pleasantville and Pannis twice.
Tri-Valley Coach Jason Closs talked about the outcome and the season:
“We weren’t making shots. We had some open looks but we weren’t hitting. When you’re not hitting shots and playing good teams, you force things trying to make up points. Then things kind of steamroll. The final score is not an accurate depiction of this game. We worked hard. We switched up defenses. We made them think. We did a lot of things strategically but the bottom line is when you don’t make shots against good teams you can’t win.”
He went on to say:
“We gave up 53 points which is not a bad total against this team. We just had to score more. This was a great season. Obviously you’d always like to go one more game. I loved coaching these girls. It’s been a pleasure. It’s sad that you have to end on a loss but what a great year, for the girls, for the program and especially for me as a coach,” he averred emotionally.
Haldane Coach Tyrone Searight spelled out the keys to success:
“Our objective has been to get to the states and win the whole thing,” he said forthrightly.
“We play 32 minutes of hellish defense and we like to change it up. We started man-to-man. In the second half we went to a zone press and then we went to our favorite press. Coming into the game I felt like we try to wear teams down going into the third and fourth quarter. And if you were watching you’ll see that’s what we actually did. In the fourth quarter we took over.”
Searight had seen the Pine Plains game. He had schemed accordingly.
“We’ve been on a 12 game winning streak and we’ve been playing good defense. Each game we’ve been doing better and better, coming up with good stops and rebounds.”
Asked about Haldane’s success year after year, he replied: “It’s a Class C school that comes up with one or two very talented girls each year and then the other girls are good contributors. We have a great set of girls who know their role on the team. We’ve got Samantha Lisikatos who controls the basketball. We have Allie Monteleone who can really score. We’ve got Jessica Harrison who can put back shots and Cali Schweikhart who plays great defense and Marissa Lisikatos.
Props to Haldane but Kudos to Tri-Valley for an outstanding season. Best of luck to seniors Collen Jones, Sabrena Smith, Katlynn Greffath and Ashley Exner.