PATERSON, NJ - On perhaps the most emotional evening of their high school athletic careers five seniors of Eastside High School girls’ varsity basketball squad were honored in a pre-game ceremony and then went on to lead their team to a dramatic 43-40 win over visiting Passaic. The seniors, Mia Culver, Ammanea Freeman, Briana Davis, Ayonnna Pineday, and Ky’zinah Townes were awarded beautiful plaques by Head Coach Brandon Pilgrim and his coaching staff.
Following the pregame festivities, the visiting Indians took no time making their own statement. Despite initial noteworthy defensive efforts by the Ghosts, including shot blocks by Culver and Townes, and the drawing of an offensive foul by Davis, Eastside’s offense was not able to solve the Indians’ 2-3 zone.
Passaic, bolstered by a score from junior Valerie Licera and a three-pointer by senior Destiny Bennett, raced to a 10-0 lead.
As the first quarter buzzer sounded, Licera snatched a defensive rebound. Her outlet pass found senior Carmen Escano who jetted the length of the court for a successful layup. Now down, 12-2, it seemed a forgone conclusion that the Titanic had sunk for the Lady Ghosts. However, any fans that may have left early missed the most remarkable of comebacks.
Water continued to rise in the cargo hold for Eastside as Bennett and senior Alandra Carpio both notched fast break baskets for the Indians to open the second frame, forcing Coach Pilgrim to signal for a timeout. The strategy worked as Culver followed by dishing to junior teammate Sharini Beato for a three-point swish. Soon thereafter, Pineda picked off a pass and went coast-to-coast for a successful layup. The offensive flurry helped the Ghosts narrow the point deficit to 22-11. In addition, Eastside continued to turn up the defensive heat propelled by a steal and fast break bucket by Townes. However, a defensive rebound by Passaic’s freshman center D’ani Morales and subsequent score by Bennett temporarily quelled the rally.
Soon thereafter, Freeman raced up-court and fired to Beato, deep in the right corner, for a long swish. The shot would bode prophetic, as the Ghosts caught fire in the second from three-point land. The Indians missed a shot attempt from beyond the arc as the second quarter concluded.
Early in the third frame, it became evident that the Lady Ghosts would not need any lifeboats. Culver picked a pocket and raced for an uncontested layup. Defensive pressure by Beato forced a travelling violation and the latter knocked down a 20-footer from the right wing. With 5:18 left in the quarter, the deck of Passaic’s once seemingly insurmountable lead had been cut to 27-26.
Despite the dramatic change in events, the Indians did not wilt but rather continued to battle, led by Escano and Morales, and built the lead back to six points. With 30 seconds left in the quarter, the Ghosts held the ball for a last shot but a blocked pass foiled the strategy.
The final frame was certainly not one for the faint of heart. Propelled by the very seniors that had previously been honored, the Lady Ghost staged the most spectacular of comebacks.
Townes raced down court and fired to Beato whose left corner bomb found nothing-but-net. In one of the most spectacular plays of the game, Townes intercepted a pass near midcourt. The ball scooted close to the hardwood but the quick-thinking guard continued dribbling while still moving forward. As Passaic defenders were able to catch up, Townes was still miraculously able to complete the fast break layup.
Down by a single point, 34-33, with 6:24 left in regulation, both squads misfired on three-point attempts. Passaic attempted to take time to set up their offense but Beato harassed her defender and forced a clutch tie-up. Down the stretch, Passaic’s Escano visited the free throw line three times.
Despite several shot attempts in which Eastside players appeared to be fouled but no call was whistled, with Culver directing play from the point, the Ghosts were able to continue to stay step by step with their adversaries. Beato passed to Townes for a perfect swish from beyond the arc, to the left of the key. Moments later, following a fierce battle under the boards, Beato launched a rainbow, this one from the right corner, which tickled the twine. However, Escano answered with a textbook, pull-up 20 footer. Eastside’s reply was a missed inside shot by Pineda but the never-say-quit inspirational leader grabbed her own rebound, was fouled, and calmly dropped in two free throws. A tenacious half-court trap by the Ghosts forced a Passaic timeout.
In the final nail-biting moments, Townes continued to employ defensive harassment which eventually resulted in her own nifty turnaround banker from the low post, courtesy of an assist by Beato. The breathtaking turn of events saw the Ghosts claim a one point lead, 41-40, with a mere 10 clicks left on the clock. Immediately following three straight inbounds passes due to quick fouls by Passaic attempting to gain possession, responsibility rested on the Eastside ball handlers. Beato was more than up to the task as her masterful dribbling skills were showcased. Fittingly, the junior playmaker was fouled and went to the free throw line with .3 seconds left. Both shots found their mark. The final horn sounded as Eastside players, coaches, and fans mobbed their hardwood heroes.
Indeed, the Titanic had risen again.
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