NEW PALTZ – They didn’t expect it to be easy, and it wasn’t.
But in the end, the Highland High School girls’ basketball team had a little too much Alex Garcia for Ellenville.
Garcia scored half of her game-high 16 points in the final quarter on Saturday afternoon, and the Huskies won their fourth consecutive Section Nine Class B championship with a 43-33 win over the Blue Devils in a game played at the Hawk Center on the campus of the State University of New York at New Paltz.
Highland now moves on to play Section 1 champion Irvington for the third consecutive year in the state regionals on Tuesday at the Westchester County Center.
“This was a tough one,” Highland coach Jim Delmar said. “They played hard, we played hard, and fortunately we scored a little more.”
Highland never trailed after taking a 12-9 lead on the first play of the second quarter, but Ellenville wouldn’t go quietly, either. Regina Steele (13 points) kept the Blue Devils in it, and when the Huskies threatened to pull away in the third quarter by taking an 11-point lead, Steele and Natalie Lugo (nine points) scored all the points in a 12-2 run to pull within 26-25.
“They stuck with us throughout the whole game,” Garcia said. “Regina Steele is a great athlete and she gave us a game.”
But it was Garcia who might have saved the game. Her driving bank shot with under a minute left in the third period, and the subsequent free throw after being fouled, stopped Ellenville’s run and gave Highland a 29-25 lead going into the final quarter.
A driving layup by Samantha Valentino to open the fourth made it 31-25, a Kelly Murphy free throw made it 32-25, and then another traditional three-point play from Garcia gave the Huskies a 35-26 advantage.
“I wasn’t being aggressive enough,” Garcia said. “Coach told me if I didn’t step it up then it was going to be a struggle for us to win.”
“Alex came through,” Delmar said. “She’s our go-to player down the stretch. I encourage her to take it to the rim. Everybody’s got a feature player and we like it when she can step up at the end and make plays for us.”
Garcia hit 5-of-6 foul shots in the last two minutes to seal the victory for Highland.