Whether it was athleticism, sluggishness, or just too much to ask after winning a state championship, Ossining struggled to keep up with Bishop Ford in the New York State Class AA Federation championship game, losing 75-60.
“I don’t think we came to play for whatever reason,” Ossining coach Dan Ricci said. “We weren’t ourselves. Maybe it was a letdown from our first state championship, I’ve heard that happens from other people and Bishop Ford was obviously on a mission, my hat is off to them.”
Ossining struggled to hit shots it hit all year long and also turned the ball over 24 times. The Pride were just 6-for-33 from three-point range.
“I think we did okay, but we didn’t shoot very well at all, they were really athletic but if I played a little better I think we could’ve won,” NYS Miss Basketball Saniya Chong said. “They got to the basket well and it was difficult for us on defense.”
Chong finished the game with 26 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, six steals, and two blocks. Her seven assists were a Class AA Federation tournament record. Chong needed 38 points coming into the game to reach the incredible 3,000-point plateau. She finished her career with 2,988 points, fourth all-time in New York, and first all-time for four-year players. She also set the single-season points record in the state last week. To add to her state record accolades, she owns the single-season and career records for 3-pointers made.
“It’s been a pleasure coaching her, she’s the best player Section 1 has ever had,” Ricci said. “I hope she works hard at UConn. We’re all very proud of her.”
Bishop Ford’s Aaliyah Lewis (St. John’s) picked up her fourth foul in the first half and the Pride were down just two at the break, but the Falcons began to pull away in the third quarter without her. Junior Aaliyah Jones scored 19 of her 25 points in the first half and dominated the game on both sides of the ball in Lewis’ absence.
Meanwhile, Ossining’s shots continued to miss the mark. The Pride shot just 9-for-33 in the second half overall and only made it to the free throw line twice the entire half.
“Alex Cristello and Kat Poletta played really hard and Jalay gave it her all but we didn’t really look like we wanted to be here,” Ricci said. “We turned the ball over more than I’ve ever seen. It’s a growing experience for us, it’s another step we have to make.”
Despite being the top-ranked team in the MSG Varsity Tri-State Top 25 Poll as well as the New York State Sportswriters Rankings, Ossining was an underdog coming in. Only four NYSPHSAA teams have ever won the Class AA federation title before including last year’s Cicero-North Syracuse squad led by Breanna Stewart.
Even with the graduation of Chong, the Pride’s future is bright.
Sophomore Jalay Knowles scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds. Freshman Shadeen Samuels added 12 rebounds, and eight-grader Andra Espinosa-Hunter added 10 points for the Pride. Including, Abby Squirrell and Madison Strippoli down low, the cupboard is definitely not bare at Ossining.
“We actually had a scrimmage between the seniors and the underclassmen this week,” Chong said. “They beat us.”
The loss caps the best season in school history for the Pride. Ossining won its first state championship, its third straight Section 1 title, and went on the road to play some of the best teams in the country.
“Like I told the kids, the positives are that we are state champs, nobody can ever take that away,” Ricci said. “We’re the first team ever in Ossining athletics to win a state title. This was a great ride with a great group of kids.”
Email John Malone at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MSGV_Malone