NORTH SALEM, N.Y.— It’s always a positive when a team gets to challenge itself against the best the section has to offer—especially when it’s an opponent it could meet in the postseason.

North Salem got that opportunity when it faced defending Section 1 Class C champion Haldane on Jan. 27.

The Tigers were within striking distance in the third quarter, but the visiting Blue Devils pulled away for a 56-28 league victory.

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Trailing 30-13 at halftime, North Salem started the third quarter on a 5-0 run behind a bucket and a free throw from junior Alina DiMella and a putback from sophomore Gabrielle Marino.

“We finally said, ‘You know what, they are Haldane basketball, but they’re high school girls just like you,’” North Salem coach Eric Buzzetto said. “That was kind of my point at halftime—just come out and play your game. I think in the third quarter we did play our game. I’m very proud of the way the girls played today and thought they did a great job.”

The aggressive Blue Devils regained control after that, however, as the Tigers were plagued by turnovers. Haldane took a commanding 45-22 lead into the fourth quarter.

“They bring so much pressure it’s hard for us sometimes,” Buzzetto said. “I do have to give Haldane a lot of credit. They played great tonight. They forced us into a lot of uncomfortable situations and a lot of turnovers. We caused ourselves to make a lot of turnovers too. We were trying to go 100 miles an hour because they were going 100 miles an hour. Instead of just taking a deep breath and slowing down, we wanted to go at their pace and we can’t.”

Sophomore point guard Grace Curran paced North Salem with six points. DiMella and Abby Mascia added five points apiece. Daniella Jacobson had four points.

“Alina DiMella had some big baskets and was boxing out like crazy again,” Buzzetto said. “Grace Curran was under tremendous pressure tonight, but I’m so proud of how she played.”

Junior Amira Flayhan, who also finished with four points, banked in a deep three with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter. Flayhan, who is a standout lacrosse player, is playing basketball for the first time since sixth grade.

“She’s such a positive kid,” Buzzetto said. “Whether you’re up 30 or down 30, that little point in the game when she hit that three and she put her hands up in the air, that’s why we coach. I don’t even care about the scoreboard. We won that game right there and that’s why we coach basketball — to give kids good memories.”

Buzzetto knows that if they have aspirations of winning the section title, the Tigers will have to face Haldane down the line.

“You have to go through Haldane (to win the section),” Buzzetto said. “Just like in Class B, you have to go through Irvington and in AA you have to go through Ossining. Are they beatable? Yes, every team’s beatable. Any team can lose on any given day, especially down at the County Center. It’s a funny place to play and anything can happen down there. We obviously have a lot to work on. I think it’s a lot of how we maintain our calm and don’t try to play at their pace. Haldane did a great job of forcing us to play at a speed we’re not capable of playing at. If we can play at our speed, I think like any game we play, we can win a basketball game.”

The Tigers bounced back with a 34-19 win over host Solomon Schechter on Jan. 29. Curran and Elisabeth Squire netted nine points apiece.

North Salem (9-6) lost to visiting Putnam Valley 54-29 on Jan. 25. Curran (10 points), Squire (five points), Julia DeSanto (four points) and Kara Rollins (four points) were key contributors.

The Tigers have a tough week upcoming as they travel to Putnam Valley for a 4:30 p.m. contest on Feb. 2, head to Haldane the next night at 6:15 p.m. and host Pawling for a 6:15 p.m. game on Feb. 6. All three games are league contests.

“We’ve got to tighten up our offense a little bit,” Buzzetto said. “Defensively we did a good job, but we gave [Haldane] too many offensive rebounds. We have to work on playing our game and not be so concerned about what they’re doing. Maybe if we can get them to play our game a little bit, then we can have some success.”