The fourth-seeded Rye girls’ basketball team geared up for their Section 1 Class A semifinal against Peekskill by practicing hard and watching hours of game film on their top-seeded opponent. The preparation culminated in a team dinner the night before the County Center showdown, with the Golden Ball trophy from the 2005 Section title run serving as the table’s centerpiece.
Unfortunately, the one thing the Garnets could not ready for was the experience of playing on “center court”, and, in the end, it led to their downfall in a 61-52 defeat at the hands of the eventual Section champions March 2. It was clear the Garnets possessed the talent to compete with Peekskill, but at times, with the game still in reach, they fell victim to their own nerves. Rye had difficulty hitting shots they ordinarily could convert in their sleep, were whistled into early foul trouble, and turned the ball over at inopportune times.
“The loss wasn’t exactly my idea of an ideal way to end the year, but I will always remember this as a great season,” said senior captain Lillian McCabe, who scored a game-high 23 points. “Some things didn’t go our way, but I’m still happy about how hard we worked and am glad we put up such a good fight.”
The adrenaline rush both teams were feeling was reflected in a frenetic first quarter. Within five minutes, Rye recorded three personal fouls, fought for two jump balls, and had the ball stolen twice. Senior captain Jillian Chittenden scored four early points, but the Garnets missed four close-range shots in a row and went down 10-4 with two minutes left in the quarter. After head coach Mary Henwood called timeout, Grace Leishman took control and scored twice to pull the Garnets within two, 10-8.
McCabe tied the score at 12-12 in the second stanza, but Peekskill jumped ahead with an 8-0 run. McCabe answered with a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws, and by halftime Rye trailed 24-21. The Garnets kept within striking distance early in the third, but Peekskill (21-1) eventually stretched the lead to 10. Leishman and McCabe persevered though, and fought to bring Rye within five for the start of the final quarter.
The pressure mounted for both teams in the final eight minutes, but the Garnets were outscored 21-17 and ultimately succumbed. Leishman finished the game with 12 points, while Chittenden and Catharine Greer each added six. Senior Kelly O’Neill also had what Henwood referred to as, “her best game of the year”. The senior was inserted for Rachel Egan, who picked up her third and fourth foul early in the third, and scored, played tight defense, rebounded well, and even took a charge.
“My seniors were great leaders this year,” said Henwood, who has yet to decide if she’ll return for a 26th season as head coach. “I’ve been with Jillian, Catharine, and Lillian since they were freshmen. They were great captains and gave our team focus and direction.”
To sum up the season, the Davidson-bound McCabe looked at the bright side and concluded, “Who can complain about a 17-4 record?”
— Melanie Cane