NORTH SALEM, N.Y.-Neck-and-neck high school basketball games bring out the best in teams, and North Salem showed it has what it takes to compete with the Section’s finest despite falling to Croton-Harmon, 54-47, in the championship of the Tigers’ booster club tournament on Saturday afternoon.

“That was a good high school basketball game,” North Salem coach Eric Buzzetto said. “I was very happy with the kids today. We hit some big shots and had no quit in us. That’s what we need because we have a lot of hard games coming up.”

In a battle of the Tigers, North Salem made a crucial fourth-quarter comeback in a game that could have easily slipped away against a quality opponent.

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“We didn’t quit even when [Croton-Harmon] went up on us,” senior guard Alina DiMella said. “A lot of other teams I’ve been on could have just stopped. We played even harder when they went up. We were really into this game more than normal games and the crowd was in it too.”

Matters looked bleak when the home Tigers trailed 45-36 with six minutes left in the game. But North Salem was able to muster nine unanswered points to tie the game in only two minutes.

The press was working at full-force and, after a turnover, junior point guard Grace Curran spotted sophomore Julia DeSanto at the top of the key for a three-point swish to pull the Tigers within two points.

“When we pressed in the fourth quarter, it changed the momentum of the game,” Buzzetto said. “We actually switched to a zone defense in the third quarter, and we played that well. Croton runs a lot of their plays through the paint, and we started to take away the middle from them to force them to play a little higher up.”

A firm offensive rebound and putback from sophomore Elisabeth Squire knotted the score at 45-45 as North Salem bred life once more along with an ecstatic home crowd.

In a game of momentum swings, however, it was Croton-Harmon’s turn as its offense settled down to score six-straight points. The scoreboard read 51-45 with two minutes remaining.

DeSanto responded with a sharp drive and floater that dropped, but Croton came right back with a floater basket of its own and it was 53-47 with 45 seconds to spare.

On the ensuing possession, Squire’s three-point attempt rimmed out and Curran was forced to foul before Croton hit one free throw.

With just 34 seconds left for the Tigers, they turned the ball over after a few passes and the match ended after Croton scrambled for the ball and eventually ran out the clock.

Croton had the lead most of the game, but only after halftime did it extend its lead. Grinding early on, North Salem was behind 27-25 at the half thanks to crisp ball movement in a fast-paced game.

“I’m so proud of this team,” Buzzetto said. “When they go down, it’s all right because they just come back. They find a way to do it and it’s a lot of fun to coach them.”

DeSanto and Curran were awarded all-tournament honors, but Squire led this game with 14 points. Curran scored 10 points and DiMella notched seven.

Meghan Sabino scored six points and pulled down 17 rebounds while DeSanto had five points.

“The big difference for us was Meghan Sabino today,” Buzzetto said. “[Croton] kept getting offensive rebounds and she played great defense. She was a rebounding machine and played absolutely fantastic.”

The day before the tight loss, the Tigers bested Rye Neck, 42-33, at home in the first round of the tourney.

DeSanto showed why she earned tournament honors, scoring 14 points as Squire had eight. DiMella and Curran each registered six points and Jane Fetterolf scored five.  

The Tigers (8-5) hosted Class AA’s Horace Greeley on Tuesday, Jan. 23, and is scheduled to visit league rival Pawling on Friday at 6:30 p.m. They will play at Hastings on Saturday in a rematch after falling in overtime earlier this season.

“The girls have had that game circled for a while,” Buzzetto said. “If we could limit the 27 turnovers we had the last game, we could win.”