The second time proved just as sweet for the St. Mary’s girls basketball team.
But this time, youth was served even more than usual.
A veteran squad won last year’s state Catholic High School Athletic Association title for the Gaels. But this season, a whole heaping of freshmen and sophomores complemented the upperclassmen, to achieve the same result.
Saturday night at Fordham University, St. Mary’s started fast and finished even faster, blowing away Buffalo’s Nichols school, 66-49, to win the school’s seventh state championship.
Freshman Kayla Solomon, the Gaels’ leading scorer in the playoffs, poured in 20 points, while seniors Taryn Barbot and Tara Murray chipped in 17 and 15, respectively, as the hundreds of fans from Manhasset and the St. Mary’s community that trekked to the Bronx went home happy.
“We’ve been working for that the whole season, to be a team where any of our players could do well in a game,” said senior Taylor Barbot, who had eight assists and nine rebounds Saturday night. “All the young players played so well, and they helped get us this second title.”
The second title is always harder,” head coach Kevin White said. “But it’s good that the seniors who worked hard got what they worked for.”
As strong as the seniors were, led by the Barbot twins and Tara Murray, whose two consecutive three-pointers in the fourth quarter helped stretch a seven-point lead at the end of the third into double digits, it was the young’uns who really helped power St. Mary’s.
Players like freshmen Solomon, Tiana Thompson, and Scarlet Cubero, along with sophomore Sky Priester all helped power the Gaels on Saturday. White said at one point those four were on the court along with Taryn Barbot in the second quarter and did “a heck of a job.”
“Those kids had never been in that moment, championship game and all the pressure, and they handled it so well,” White said.
Solomon, who averaged 16.8 points per game this season, said she was “more excited than nervous” playing such an important contest.
“Taylor and Taryn and the other older players have really been helping me all year and giving me confidence, so I had confidence (Saturday),” Solomon said. “It was one of the most exciting days of my life.”
The road back to the title game was pretty smooth for the Gaels (24-4) for most of the season. Led by the senior twin duo of the Barbots, both headed to College of Charleston next season, as well as younger Solomon and Priester, St. Mary’s dominated most foes and seemed poised to repeat as state champions.
Solomon, a shooting guard, poured in 27 points in a playoff win over St. Anthony’s on Feb. 28, and the Gaels’ stifling defense didn’t allow most opponents room to operate.
“We’re a very mature team with a lot of kids who’ve been through pressure situations before,” White said. “They know what it takes to win.”
Solomon, “a pretty confident kid,” White said. She’s not the only scoring threat we have, which makes her life easier. She passes so well, and really everyone on the team is unselfish.”
On March 9, in the state semifinals at Christ the King School in Queens, though, the Gaels were held to their lowest point total of the season in the 37-33 win.
After racing out to a 27-12 halftime lead, it looked like St. Mary’s would cruise over Monsignor Scanlan in a rematch of last year’s CHSAA state championship game.
But Scanlan’s defense stiffened, and St. Mary’s was only able to score 10 points in the final two periods, hanging on for the victory.
“We just stopped running our offense, and didn’t execute,” White said. “It was very atypical of us, and (after the game) the kids knew they didn’t play well and that we’d have to play better Saturday to win.”
The Gaels survived the semis thanks to Solomon’s 11 points and good free throw shooting in the final minutes, with Solomon, Murray and Taryn Barbot hitting from the stripe.
“We knew after that game we didn’t play our best, and we weren’t happy with our performance at all,” Taryn Barbot said. “We knew we had to play better to win (Saturday) and we knew we would.”
Now with another state title in hand, St. Mary’s will advance to the Federation Tournament in the Albany area on March 25-26. The tournament will be held at three high schools: Guilderland High, Shaker High and Shenendehowa High.
St. Mary’s will compete in the Class AA division and will play the N.Y. State public school champ, which won’t be determined until March 18-19.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to keep playing together and see if we can win another title,” Taylor Barbot said. “We want to keep winning, and we didn’t get to play the Federation last year. So we’re excited.”