PLEASANTVILLE, N.Y.— Somers girls varsity basketball coach Marc Hattem admits this is not how he drew it up the first day of practice entering his first season as the coach for the Tuskers.
A week ago he watched his Tuskers celebrate with the Gold Ball after winning the first-ever Section 1 title in the history of the girls basketball program.
Now, he was watching them celebrate again after the Tuskers defeated Vestal 44-39 on March 10 at Pace University to win their first-ever Class A regional title and earn a trip to play in the New York State final four.
“New coach, a young team. We had no idea this would happen and I still can’t believe it, but we’re here,” Hattem said. “I’m a lucky coach, man. These kids are amazing and this is incredible.”
It’s not all luck. It takes talent, preparation and the right mental attitude. Coming off the biggest victory in school history to claim the Gold Ball, there could have easily been a letdown as the Tuskers entered the state tournament for the first time ever.
The Tuskers have never been this far before, and they faced a tough task against a much taller, veteran Vestal team that has been in the state tournament three-straight years.
The Tuskers, however, were focused and ready to go. It was clear the Tuskers were not satisfied with just a Gold Ball and a Section 1 title.
“I kept that Gold Ball at home. I didn’t want them to see it and focus on that. We’re still playing,” Hattem explained. “They’ve been practicing great all week, and these girls showed zero nerves. For a group of young girls with just two seniors, their internal toughness is just incredible. That’s a senior team (Vestal) that has been here three times. We came in with a bunch of young kids who were just not going to be stopped. It’s incredible.”
Even as they celebrated on the court at Pace, his team showed that mental toughness Hattem was talking about. They all know they are still playing, and they’re not done yet.
“We just won the first Gold Ball in our program’s history, so we never imagined this,” sophomore Hannah Angelini said. “I never even thought about winning a Gold Ball and that happened. I thought that was the best thing in the world, but now we’re taking it to the final four. It’s surreal, but it’s actually happening.”
Angelini is a big reason why the Tuskers are still playing as she took over in the second half to lead Somers to the victory. She finished with a game-high 24 points overall, including nine points in the third quarter to spark a Tusker rally.
At the start of the game, Somers came out on fire, led by junior Liv Lipski as she nailed four 3-pointers in the first half. The Tuskers held a 10-6 lead early on, but Vestal went on a 7-0 run to move ahead 13-10 early in the second and held a 25-24 lead at halftime.
That’s when Angelini took over. Trailing 27-25, Angelini scored eight points as the Tuskers went on a 10-0 run to take a 35-27 lead.
Vestal cut it down to 36-34 in the fourth quarter, but Angelini then sank four-straight free throws to make the lead 40-34 and the Tuskers were able to hold on and close out the victory to punch their ticket to the final four.
In addition to Angelini’s 24 points, Lipski finished with 13 points for the Tuskers as her outside shooting opened up the lane for the second half.
Jackie Penzo had three points, while Faith Anne Ferguson and Isabella Rukaj each had two points for the Tuskers (20-5). While Angelini and Lipski did most of the scoring, it took a team effort overall for the Tuskers to pull out the victory. Ferguson and Livy Rosenzweig battled inside against a much taller Vestal team, while freshman Danielle DiCintio handled the ball at point guard and didn’t get rattled by Vestal’s defensive pressure.
And defense was the key. After Vestal scored 16 points in the second quarter to gain that halftime lead, the Tuskers shut them down in the third quarter as Vestal scored just four points.
“These kids are amazing,” Hattem said. “Hannah was a monster today. She’s in the gym every day and I have to kick her out. She practices her craft and she’s a bona fide superstar and a big team player that gives everyone else all the credit. Lipski hit those 3-pointers. They were pure coming out of her hands and they were big. All these kids, they just played their hearts out and I’m a lucky coach.”
As the two seniors on the roster, Rosenzweig and Ferguson accepted the regional trophy plaque and started the celebration with their teammates. Rosenzweig was a starter on the Somers girls lacrosse team that went to the final four two years ago and she knows what it means to advance for a road trip in the state tournament. However, even she admits she never expected this.
“It’s amazing and the best part about this is it was so unexpected,” Rosenzweig said. “I’m just so proud of our team and I’m so excited to go to states. We didn’t expect it at all and we’re just taking it one game at a time, trying to do our best every game.”
The next game will now be the state semifinal against Section 5 champion Pittsford Mendon at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy on Friday, March 17 at 3:15 p.m. The winner of that game moves on to the New York State Class A championship game on Saturday, March 18 at 7 p.m. against the winner of the other semifinal game that pits defending state champion Jamesville-Dewitt against Elmont Memorial.
“We never thought we could do this, but now that we’re here we want to win,” Lipski said. “Now we’re going to Albany and we just want to win. We’re not satisfied yet.”