Pearl River watched an early lead disappear and trailed Tappan Zee by two points at halftime of Sunday’s Section 1 Class A girls basketball championship game at the Westchester County Center.
The Pirates answer? The same thing they always turn to: defense.
“We’ve been in situations like this before,” said senior forward Kerry Sullivan. “We knew we just had to old our ground. Defense is always there. Defense gets us going. We needed to play hard on defense no matter what.
“We all wanted the gold ball so badly, everybody played so well. Everyone just picked it up.”
Pearl River held Tappan Zee to only two points in the third quarter and 10 in the second half on the way to a 39-33 victory in the Section 1 Class A championship game.
“It’s unreal,” Scognamiglio said. “It doesn’t even feel like we got it. It’s such an amazing feeling. I’m so happy for us. I’m so proud of our team.”
“We’re very excited,” Pearl River Head Coach Lorraine Moylan said. “We’ve been here before, but hadn’t (won). This time we pushed through.
“Our defensive intensity was awesome. We buckled down. We didn’t give them great looks. They had to take tough shots. When we had possession, we took care of the ball.”
That is one thing Tappan Zee (19-3) did not do, turning the ball over 30 times, including 10 in the first quarter.
“We didn’t value the basketball,” Tappan Zee Head Coach Tom Cromer said. “We played quality defense. It’s not like we were out of the game at any time. We just turned the ball over too much and we weren’t getting many good looks ourselves.
“That’s a credit to them. They did a great job. They want you to be in a hurry. We want to play fast, but not in a hurry. It’s about seeing the play and making the play happen before you end up forcing it. We were forcing it a lot.”
Tappan Zee had not even reached the County Center before this season and was facing a team in Pearl River (21-2) that has three players who have been to the County every year since eighth grade. Christa Scognamiglio, Kerry Sullivan and Nicole Grossbard were on the team that won pearl River’s last section championship in 2008.
“It was a little different,” said Scognamiglio, who was a key contributor on that team. “Eighth grade, it was still a great feeling but being the youngest on the team, it’s not the same. Now being a senior, my last year, it’s an even better feeling knowing we ended with it.”
This one means so much,” Sullivan said. “Me Nicole and Christa were like, ‘Man, we need to get this one. We came in with one. We have to leave with one.’ It is so rewarding because we worked so hard.”
That work showed on the defensive end early as Pearl River forced Tappan Zee into 12 first-quarter turnovers on the way to building a 19-13 lead after one period.
“We came out really strong,” said senior guard Allison Cook. “I don’t know what happened. We kind of died down a bit.”
Pearl River went nearly 10 minutes without a basket. Erica Richards hit a 3-point shot to tie the game at 21 with 2:02 remaining in the first half, then a driving layup to give Tappan Zee a 23-21 lead at the break. Richards finished with 12 points to lead the Dutchmen. Tappan Zee got back into the contest by forcing Pearl River into a half-court game.
“They made some good shots and we stopped running,” Moylan said. “We wanted it full court, but that’s our style anyway.”
Scognamiglio said she couldn’t help but think of last year’s championship game loss to Peekskill, when the Pirates let a 16-point lead get away.
“Ever since the moment we lost that game, I thought we are not losing again, especially like that,” Scognamiglio said. “Then at halftime we were down by two. That thought always comes into your mind. We knew we had to come out extra hard and play our hearts out.”
Scognamiglio said a quick steal by senior forward Christy Carty to open the third quarter helped the Pirates get the momentum back.
“We knew it was our game,” Scognamiglio said.
Senior point guard Regina Argenzio scored to push Tappan Zee’s lead to four points, but Cook hit consecutive three-point shots to give Pearl River back the advantage at 27-25. The Pirates never lost that lead.
Cook missed much of the second quarter with foul trouble, but led all scorers with 15 points, making three 3-point shots.
“Allison is Ms. Clutch,” Moylan said. “Holy moly. She just makes shots when we need it. She comes up big in pressure situations. It seems like the more pressure, the better she is.”
Scognamiglio, who was named the tournament’s MVP, scored 10 points.
“Christa is amazing,” Moylan said. “She comes through big time, time and again. Whether it is on the offensive end or defensive end. She did more today on the defensive end. She just does it all.”
Pearl River pushed its lead to 31-25 after three quarters and stretched the advantage to 34-25 on Scognamiglio’s basket with 6:35 remaining.
Tappan Zee mounted one more rally, scoring seven in a row to pull within two on a 3-pointer by Richards with two minutes remaining before Argenzio had to temporarily leave the game with a knee injury.
Cook ended the run by making both ends of a 1-and-1 with 1:47 left.
Pearl River made three of six free throws the rest of the way, but it was enough as Tappan Zee managed only one point on a free throw by Argenzio in the final two minutes.
“It’s unbelievable,” Sullivan said. “There are no words to describe it. You are just so happy. This one really means a lot.”
Scognamiglio was named the tournament MVP. She and Cook made the all-tournament team along with Erica Richards and Kristen McLaughlin of Tappan Zee, Maeve Parahus of Albertus Magnus and Jamie Bucci of Sleepy Hollow.
Pearl River will play Section 4 champion Oswego 6 p.m. Tuesday at Johnson City in the first round of regionals.