They didn’t go away. They fought to the end.
The Manhasset girls basketball team never could quite grab the advantage in Friday’s Class A state semifinal game at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
Playing against Canandaigua Academy, the Long Island champions fell behind 8-0 early but kept nipping at the Braves’ heels, refusing to let a dream season die easily.
The Indians climbed back in the game numerous times, but each time they cut the deficit to two or three points, Canandiaigua would make a little spurt to get further ahead.
It was supremely frustrating for Manhasset, and ultimately, the deficits were too much to overcome. The Braves, thanks to outstanding 3-point shooting, pulled away in the final few minutes and won, 55-42.
“We got so close to closing the gap, so many times,” Manhasset head coach Lauren Sadeh said. “We were 1-2 possessions away, a lot of times. Psychologically, just looking up and seeing the score tied, would’ve been big. But we just couldn’t make enough shots.”
The pattern repeated itself throughout the game: The Indians (24-2) closed the gap many times: At 10-8, they were a bucket away from tying it, but Canandaigua scored four straight to get the lead back to six. Then it was 15-14, Braves, but four quick points spurted Canandaigua back in front.
It was like a race where the lead runner let the pack catch up or a bit, then pulled away just as they were about to lose the lead.
Manhasset, normally a good outside shooting team, picked a very unfortunate day to have a bad night from the perimeter, going 1-for-18 from behind the 3-point line.
Shooters go through slumps, it happens to everyone, and unfortunately, it happened to Mia (LoPinto) and our other shooters today,” Sadeh said. “We kept firing away, I told them to keep shooting, they just weren’t going down.”
Still, Manhasset kept fighting. Senior center Ali McIntyre was a force inside, scoring 12 points and ripping down 11 rebounds, while junior Lauren Perfetto had 10 points and nine boards. Junior Nicoletta Tsiamis also had 11 points and eight rebounds.
Canandaigua did an excellent job on Manhasset senior star Caitlin Barrett, holding her to seven points, and forcing her to work hard on both ends of the floor.
“She had to do a lot defensively, trying to contain their bigger players, and then run our offense,” Sadeh said. “She was working double time on both.”
The Indians, trailing by five at the half, weren’t panicking, Sadeh said. The six-point comeback in the final 80 seconds of the Long Island Championship game a week earlier was a rallying point.
“We said in the locker room, hey, we scored six points in a minute, we have the whole half left to make up this deficit,” Sadeh said.
But it wasn’t to be. Despite Tsiamis maybe having her best game of the season (“she doesn’t back down from anyone, she doesn’t care, she’s just fearless,” Sadeh marveled) the closest Manhasset could come was within 2 points in the third quarter.
In the fourth, Manhasset had one last push, as Tsiamis made two free throws to cut the deficit to five, 39-34.
But a steal and layup, and another bucket from Canandaigua moved the gap to nine, and Manhasset was finally put away.
Still, a few hours after the game on the drive down I-87, Sadeh took a moment to marvel at the season.
First Nassau County championship since 1993. First Long Island championship in 30 years.
A team she absolutely loved coaching, something she admits she hasn’t always been able to say in 12 years as Manhasset’s leader.
The Indians got to play from practice in October all the way until St. Patrick’s Day, and so much had to go right to get them to this place.
It started with senior leadership; McIntyre and Barrett were “exactly what you’d want from captains, they did the right things and were such good examples for the younger kids,” Sadeh said. “And Mia too, this was her fourth year in the program, and she was part of the leadership group.
“You had every girl on the team be all in, commitment-wise from day one,” Sadeh added. “That is very, very rare. Nobody put other things in their life ahead of this team, and that’s the first team I’ve ever had that I can say that about.”
Throw in a heaping dose of luck: The Indians had no major injuries and no sicknesses to deal with, another extremely rare thing for a coach to see.
“A lot of things have to line up to have this kind of season,” Sadeh said. “We accomplished an insane amount, we got better as the season went along, and the kids just kept fighting and wanting to be here.”