For the first time in a dozen years, the Garnets won the Golden Ball Sectional Championship at the County Center.
By Melanie Cane
For the first time in a dozen years, the Garnets won the Golden Ball Sectional Championship at the County Center. The last time the girls won the Section 1 title, in 2004, they were in Class B, not Class A, so this is a tremendous victory. On February 28, Rye trounced top-seeded Ursuline 63-47.
In the semifinals against Pearl River on February 26, Rye came back from an 11-point halftime deficit to win 37-30, due in large part to the performance of Katie Popp, who scored 16 of her 18 points in the second half.
In the championship game, the Garnets took an early lead, throwing Ursuline off balance. But late in the second quarter, the Koalas righted the ship and at halftime the score was knotted 23-23.
Popp said, “I came out of halftime feeling more determined than ever. I told my teammates that this was not going to be our last game. I knew that I needed to step it up both defensively and offensively for my team.” And she did, as did the entire team. In fact, the Garnets played the best basketball of the season throughout the entire second half.
They quickly took the lead and outscored Ursuline 25-4 in the third quarter. Popp scored 13 of these points. On the defensive end, they stepped up their boxing out and rebounding. Senior co-captain Maddie Eck said, “We were definitely successful on defense, limiting Ursuline’s best players, Corina Guerra and Katie McLaughlin.”
Popp led the scoring with 27, which included 11 out of 15 from the line. Eck scored 14 and was four out of five from the line. Ali Imam was a force in the paint, scoring 12 points and bringing down six rebounds. Taylor Maurer had a great game setting up plays and staying composed under pressure.
After the game, Coach Dennis Hurlie said, “We knew we could win if we stuck to our game plan. It was an amazing feeling, better than I could have even imagined.”
Eck, who was named to the All-Tournament team, said, “It feels great to win the Gold Ball. No one has worked harder this season than my teammates and I in pursuing a Section Title.”
Popp, who knew she was close to scoring her 1000th point, but did not know how close, said, “It was the best feeling in the world to win MVP, and help my team win the section. The combination of these two achievements, as well as getting my 1,000th point made it one of the best days of my life.” And she got to bring home the game ball.
The team had very little time to celebrate the sweet victory before the Regionals. On March 1, they topped Saugerties 57-37 at the County Center. On Saturday, the Garnets play Vestal High School in the Regional finals at SUNY Cortland.