SOMERS, N.Y.-It didn’t take much for Somers’ girls basketball team to get excited for the start of sectionals and the defense of its Section 1 Class A title.
But bulletin-board material from a newspaper fueled the fire a little more.
The Tuskers had attended Lakeland’s playoff contest with Nyack. “We were there to scout,” Somers junior Hannah Angelini said. “We knew Lakeland, but we had never seen Nyack play so we really wanted to watch.”
But a Lakeland player had a different spin. She was quoted after the game as saying of Somers, “…I mean, they were all here watching, so obviously they’re a little scared.”
“That was actually one of my best friends who said that,” Angelini said. “We definitely used it as motivation and we laughed about it, too.”
Second-seeded Somers started the game on fire and never cooled off in a 51-25 win over No. 15 Lakeland on Feb. 16 in the Class A opening round.
A week prior, the Hornets and Tuskers played an overtime game in which Lakeland led for most of regulation. Somers, however, turned up the dial in the extra stanza to pull out a 59-54 win.
In the sectional rematch, the Tuskers stormed out to a 14-2 lead after one quarter when Angelini knocked down a jumper with two seconds left.
“Coach (Marc Hattem) really got us pumped up and he let us know what was at stake,” Angelini said. “Last year we played John Jay-Cross River—who is another league opponent—in a first-round game. And that game went down to the wire. We knew we didn’t want to do the same exact thing as we did last year. We just had to come out strong and we really focused on that during practice this week. It was a blessing and a curse going to overtime with them (during the regular season). They came in more confident than they would have but also we knew what we had to improve on.”
Lakeland’s first basket didn’t come until there was 11 seconds left in the first quarter against a smothering Tusker defense.
“Coach really stressed not letting them get into their offense, to deny the wings and to just pressure, pressure, pressure,” Angelini said. “They get a little flustered. We did a very good job of that throughout the entire game.”
“I just love the way we guarded tonight,” Hattem said.
The Tuskers took a 26-9 lead into halftime after Angelini banked in a three and Liv Lipski found Isabella Rukaj for a layup with four seconds left.
“We executed our game plan very well,” senior captain Jackie Penzo said. “We worked really hard and worked as a team. We moved the ball around and played great defense. It was a really good game.
“On defense, we followed through with what coach told us. We made the lefties go right. We talked a lot and switched perfectly.”
Angelini knocked down two threes to close the third quarter and extend the lead to 42-13. Dani DiCintio added two more triples for the Tuskers as they led 38-18 with 5:32 to go.
Angelini led the way with a game-high 18 points. DiCintio added 11 points while Penzo and Rukaj tallied seven and six points, respectively. “Nobody can guard us when everyone’s hitting our shots and we’re all working together as a team,” Penzo said.
Rukaj and Tina Hebeisen (three points), who usually rotate at center for Somers, normally don’t score much. But the duo added nine points combined against Lakeland.
“It’s huge. We all have so much trust in the both of them,” Angelini said. “We know when they’re struggling, we’re still feeding them the ball when they’re open. They were able to convert on almost all of them today. It was just amazing.”
During the last week of the regular season, as Hattem experimented with different lineups, Rukaj and Hebeisen saw their minutes decrease.
“Those kids weren’t happy and rightfully so,” the coach said. “If you’re not playing you’re going to get mad and they were mad. They’re wonderful kids. Both of them are such special kids. I wanted to see different lineups. Tonight, I was going to this game and I was saying, ‘I’m playing them. We need them.’”
Somers (15-6) will host No. 10 Walter Panas at 5 p.m. today in the Section 1 Class A quarterfinals.
The Tuskers experienced some shooting struggles down the stretch run of the regular season. Their troubles began in the overtime game with Lakeland and a league loss to top-seeded John Jay-Cross River but they regained their touch in their final regular season game vs. Nanuet and the playoff opener with the Hornets.
Hattem noted that after watching plenty of tape, they realized they just weren’t taking high-percentage shots. That changed in a blowout win over Nanuet and in its first playoff game.
“With our team, there’s four starters returning and we’re an incredibly talented team,” Angelini said. “We know we can play and beat any team in this class if we play our game. We had a shooting slump like never before toward the end of the season so that hurt us. But also, we struggled a lot playing together and playing for each other. Sometimes we’re playing for a couple of other things. I think we turned it around in this game (with Lakeland).”