Pearl River girls basketball Head Coach Lorraine Moylan dismissed recent history while talking about her Pirates' Section 1 Class A girls basketball semifinal game against Albertus Magnus 8:15 p.m. tonight at the County Center.
"We're not looking at the past," Moylan said. "We're looking at thius particular game. For us to be successful, we have to play really good defense and play smart with the ball."
Moylan putting the focus on defense is nothing new, but neither is the matchup. Albertus Magnus will be making its 14th consecutive appearance at the County Center, but the last two ended with losses to Pearl River in the semifinals.
"It's a great accomplishment for both programs to get there," Moylan said. "It's something teams strive for. You want to be at center stage and that's the County Center. When you get there, you want to do your best."
The Pirates also swept two regular-season meetings with the Falcons this year, bringing Pearl River's winning streak against Albertus Magnus to seven games. The Falcons last beat the Pirates when they won their first meeting of the 2010-11 season, Pat Buckley's first as their head coach.
"I've lost to them twice in this same game," Albertus Magnus senior forward Maeve Parahus said. "I don't want to again.
"We just have to play tough and rebound. We have to out-tough them. Last time we played we out-toughed them for a half, but that's not enough. To beat a team like Pearl River, you can't only play well for a half."
"That's partly what makes Coach Moylan a great coach," Buckley said. "You always know her teams are going to come out and play hard. Even just preparing to play them helps us because we're preparing to play the best."
Pearl River (18-2) enters the game as the top seed, but it was Albertus Magnus (13-7) that looked like the favorite before the season, even after they lost guard Kelly Guarino to a knee injury. Parahus, a Manhattan recruit, leads a deep group of scorers who have experience and a size.
The Falcons battled injuries and inconsistency at times, but they are present a tough challenge for the Pirates' defense, especially with their ability to shoot from three-point range.
"I think they've been good all the way through," Moylan said. "Even in the beginning of the year when we knew they weren't going to have Guarino, they were the team to beat."
Junior Christine O'Riordan did most of her damage from long range while scoring 23 points in a 76-46 quarterfinal victory over John Jay, though Ryan Doherty and Madison McGrath are also strong scoring threats.
"We have to respect their different abilities," Moylan said. "They have a very good outside shooting team, a good, offensive-minded team. They can get to the basket. They can do a lot of things. We have to play good team defense."
That defense is a major reason why Pearl River has a chance to repeat as Section 1 Class A champion despite returning only one starter from last season, point guard Marissa Scognamiglio. The Pirates do not have one dominant offensive player. Different players seem to step up offensively each game. In the first meeting with Albertus, it was Amanda DeCourcey doing much of the damage driving to the basket. In the second one, it was Scognamiglio scoring 22 points.
"I'm very proud of the leadership, the work ethic each (player) brings eery day. I think that's a testament to who these guys are as individuals and as a team," Moylan said. "They bring out the best in each other. That's something you want to see. That's one of the highest goals you can say or compilments you can give, that they bring the best in one another. It's awesome to be a part of that."
Though Pearl River is known for its trapping defense and up-tempo offense, the Pirates have also rebounded well against the taller Falcons.
"To beat them we have to defend and rebound well," Buckley said. "That's what they do. We know they're going to play hard. They're going to defend and rebound, especially on the offensive end. They're a tremendous offensive rebounding team."
The winner of tonight's game will play Peekskill in the Class A championship game 5 p.m. Sunday at the County Center.
Editor's note: Adam Littman contributed to this report.