ARMONK, N.Y. – On Friday, Feb. 21, John Jay traveled to face fifth-seeded Byram Hills in the first round of the Section 1 Class A playoffs. Seeded 12th after going 11-9, the Indians did not shrink and battled down to the wire.
In the end, however, following a 65-60 loss, Coach Matt Gallagher could only lament a couple of borderline possessions but still held his head high on behalf of his players.
“They left everything on the court,” Gallagher said.
John Jay once again got their start on the play of Kendall Miller. She pulled down the first of her 13 rebounds, found Sarah Pieratti on the outlet and John Jay led 2-0.
Miller’s multidimensional talents put Byram on notice. Tallying 26 points, she hit a turnaround jumper, came up with a steal and was on the receiving end for two layups.
Of course, the Bobcats had plenty of game themselves. Beth Corelli, who dropped 24, hit two threes for a 7-4 advantage and Olivia Barry put up 6 with two drives and one hefty follow.
John Jay did hold a small foothold after one, but the 17-14 lead disappeared on Corelli’s step-back three. The teams traded baskets until Miller hit another turnaround jumper, and Pieratti nailed a triple to give John Jay a 26-21 lead.
There was plenty of fight in these Bobcats, though. Jen Mui answered with a three and Olivia Picca got to the line to close to 27-26 with 3:33 left in the half.
The see-saw continuing, Bryam impressed as Stefana Latella received a perfect inbound to knot the score at 32, but Lindsey Neumann went on the backend seconds later. Under John Jay’s basket, she threw the ball off the back of her defender and converted for a two-point halftime lead.
The start of the third got John Jay on the board on another inbound. Kelly Nolan found Miller inside for two, but any separation was shut down by Mui. She scored 8 of her 15 points with two drives and a corner three.
Strong up the middle, Miller stopped the run with a three, and the quarter seemed ready to close at 44-43 as the center masterfully defended the break. But Mui kept her head up and hit the follow to extend the lead to three.
The Bobcats maintained at 50-47 as Latella dropped a layup, and the game looked ready to get away on the subsequent Byram Hills fast break. But Shannon Nolan, who had 9 points, turned away Corelli with the rejection.
Nolan then tied the score on a three—a major assist going to Mia Puccio. Puccio dove into the loose ball scrum and kept the possession alive.
“She is our workhorse,” said Gallagher. “She often has to keep up with the opposition’s best player, and still scores, passes and rebounds.”
Picca answered back with a three nonetheless, but after Miller sunk two free throws to cut to 53-52, Byram Hills looked like they might unravel. An offensive foul and a backcourt violation put the home team on edge.
After a timeout, Puccio found Miller inside for two, and Shannon Nolan drained a jumper. Unfortunately, the three-point lead once again ran into Byram’s backcourt. Corelli hit two jumpers and gave the Bobcats a 57-56 lead.
Fittingly, John Jay’s final lead came on Miller’s heels. Missing the layup underneath, the senior converted the put back on her third try to go up 58-57.
Following a jump shot and follow by Corelli and Latella respectively, Puccio’s drive gave John Jay their final points at 61-60. Later, Nolan was whistled for a travel, and Puccio was called for a foul on Mui’s jump shot.
The Bobcat guard would sink two free throws for a 63-60 lead, and John Jay could not overcome in the final 1:37. Even so, Gallagher acknowledged the Indians’ dedication and commitment—especially as a first-year coach trying to make his way.
“They mean everything to me,” he concluded.