Scholars Academy garnered plenty of notice after capturing the PSAL Class B championship in only its second year of varsity girls basketball last March.
Seawolves coach Janet Kleiner had to lead the defending champions without top scorer Rebecca Moers and three senior starters departed due to graduation. But the few returning players, quickly bonded with few faces to become a force once again.
On Sunday, sophomore staring forward Jessica Glaz provided the key baskets with a team-high 23 points to advance second-seeded Scholars’ to the PSAL title game again with a 52-44 win over Gompers at Hunter College.
Despite losing four starters, the Seawolves didn’t lose their championship experience. The steady Glaz rose quickly last season into becoming a valuable sixth man, and has improved this season as a starter. Taylor Gallagher, a junior who was another reserve last season, added 11 points.
The Seawolves will face top-seeded Bedford Academy in a rematch of last year’s title game Sunday at City College. Tip-off is at 11 a.m.
Scholars (25-3) used a competitive non-league schedule, which feared wins over playoff-bound Class A squads Flushing and Forest Hills, to work younger players into the lineup. Freshman forward Emma Michaels (8 points), Kayla Nolan and Serena Yanello each made contributions throughout the campaign.
“It’s really unbelievable,” Kleiner said. “It’s not completely a new group. Kristin [Henschel], Kayla, Jessie, she was our sixth man last year. They know what’s it’s like, they want to taste it again.”
The Seawolves got off fast Sunday, taking a 14-2 lead with two minutes left in the first quarter. Gompers (20-1) slowly ate away into the Scholars lead with the aid of Aaliyah Mercer, who scored a team-high 23 points.
Glaz admitted the team lost a bit of energy after seeing a 13-point lead whittled down to 43-40 with 5:30 left to play. Scholars responded right after calling a timeout as Kristin Henschel and Nolan connected on back-to-back layups to stem Gompers’ momentum.
“We came together as a group and wanted to be aggressive and start out the second half like we did the first,” Glaz said. “Run them out of the gym and that’s what we wanted to did.”
Glaz also said the team remains touched to see Clare Droesch, the former Christ the King star and former Seawolves assistant coach, cheering then on from the stands. Droesch is currently battling Stage Four breast cancer, yet remains quite close to her cousin Henschel, and the rest of the squad by barking out instructions or giving words of encouragement.
“It’s amazing. Even though she ain’t on the bench,” Glaz said. “She’s with us in our hearts and in the stands”.
Bedford Academy 44, Queens Vocational 43
Time was running out for Bedford Academy in Sunday’s semifinal matchup against Queens Vocational and the Panthers hero was needed.
Marlisa Pee is not usually in that situation. But with 6-foot-1 center Brianna Perlmutter struggling with a bout of asthma and suffering the effects of an errant elbow to her right side late in the fourth quarter, someone had to step up.
That’s what Pee, who averages six points per game did. The senior captain scored seven of her 10 points in the final 2:21 as she lifted top-seeded Bedford Academy to a come-from-behind 44-43 victory at Hunter College.
Pee said her role was to keep her team positive late in the game. Queens Vocational (19-1) had taken its largest lead at 41-33 midway into the fourth quarter and it was time to save the Panthers season.
“Honestly I’m not the one to go on offense,” Pee said. “But you know what things happen, other players feeling down, that’s when others have to step up and keep their heads in the game.”
Perlmutter (13 points) had completed back-to-back layups to cut the deficit to four. Pee then took advantage of a steal by Perlmutter to convert a 3-point play. At the 1:05 mark, Pee converted a runner in the lane to give the Lady Panthers the lead for good, and sealed the game with a layup with eight seconds remaining to go up 44-41.
“She’s my captain. She has the leadership skills to handle that pressure,” Bedford Academy coach Kendra Nelson said. “We’re going to go to you… I had that faith in her.”
Shakirra Smith had 13 points to lead a Queens Vocational team that tired down the stretch playing on a large court and taking on an athletic Bedford Academy team.
“We got tired down the end,” Lady Tigers coach Tom Devaux said. “We was gassed. I was using timeouts to try and save them, I just didn’t have many there.”
Nelson said her team remained positive despite battling nagging injuries. Now they are one win away from winning a championship against a Scholars Academy team that stopped them last March.
“My kids know what was it like last year,” Nelson added. “That’s their motivator to come back here and get a different outcome.”