NORTH SALEM, N.Y.-It’s been a long time coming, but that only sweetened the feeling when North Salem knocked off top-rival Haldane, 42-34 on a Saturday morning at the high school.
“To beat Haldane feels good every time,” North Salem coach Eric Buzzetto said. “Even when we had down teams and they (Haldane) were better, I know it felt good for them to beat us. It’s good for the kids because we now have a really good rivalry.”
Heading into the fourth quarter with a 32-26 lead, the Tigers’ 2-3 zone defense stifled Haldane into plenty of missed shots and turnovers.
Just after North Salem forced a shot-clock violation with three minutes to go, sophomore Elisabeth Squire bounced a pass to sophomore Julia DeSanto before she swished home a 3-pointer that extended the edge to 37-32.
Whether it was three seconds in the paint or a traveling call, the Blue Devils simply could not find themselves offensive opportunities down the stretch.
Hurting them two-fold was the Tigers’ presence around the rim, as they dominated the boards during crunch time.
“As a team, our No. 1 thing was rebounding,” DeSanto said. “The hustle that we put forth was what separated us from them. We’ve lost to them (Haldane) a lot in the past, so this win felt like a strong step in the right direction for the future of our team.”
Senior guard Alina DiMella came through in the clutch, hitting two free throws to keep North Salem up 40-34 with a minute to play.
After the teams exchanged turnovers, Haldane missed both a contested three-pointer and a layup before sophomore Joan Herlihy collected the final rebound with 18 seconds remaining.
“I worked especially hard at rebounding at the last practice,” Herlihy said. “I work hard for the minutes that I get.”
Officially icing the match, Herlihy sank two free throws and the Tigers stole the ball once more before throwing their arms in the air in satisfaction of beating the defending Section 1 Class C champions.
“This win is a big deal for us,” Herlihy said. “This is better than beating any other team.”
Since North Salem held only a 25-22 halftime lead, the second half defensive showdown was as intense as it gets.
“The kids played out of their minds today,” Buzzetto said. “I’m at a loss for words (to say) how proud I am for all of these girls. They are taking pride in that now (the zone defense) and down the stretch, we kept making our shifts and reads while capitalizing on Haldane’s mistakes. Our defense won the game for us.”
Pressing late in the third quarter, the Blue Devils were fried when junior point guard Grace Curran pushed the ball in transition to spot DiMella for a corner jump-shot that stretched the Tigers’ advantage to five points.
DeSanto followed with a steal at midcourt and an easy fast-break bucket before Haldane called timeout while trailing by seven with a minute left in the third.
Curran and Squire paced North Salem with 11 points each and DiMella came up with eight in the group effort.
DeSanto scored seven points, while both Herlihy and Meghan Sabino had three points apiece.
“It was a great team win,” Buzzetto said. “Those kids have never beaten Haldane. Just to have that feeling now, I’m so happy for them.”
On Thursday, Feb. 1, the Tigers lost 44-23 to visiting Putnam Valley. They trailed 18-13 at halftime, but the offense faded afterward in the setback.
Although North Salem outscored Putnam Valley in the paint and outrebounded it, the home Tigers turned the ball over 28 times.
Curran registered eight points while Jane Fetterolf scored five. DiMella and Squire each chipped in four points and DeSanto notched two. Squire also dazzled with 11 rebounds and 10 blocks.
North Salem (10-8) was scheduled to visit Haldane on Feb. 7. In their last regular season game, the Tigers will host their senior night against another league rival, Pawling, on Friday at 6 p.m.