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SOMERS, N.Y. – After getting out to a 29-15 lead behind a strong first-half effort, it appeared that Kennedy Catholic would cruise to victory against Woodlands in the Section 1 Class B quarterfinals.
If only it was that easy.
The No. 4-seeded Gaels were held to only 13 second-half points and had to rely on their stellar defense to grind out a 42-38 win over No. 5 Woodlands.
“I was confident in our defense,” Kennedy sophomore center Kiera Hennessy said. “We’ve been working hard in our practices. We just had to be defensive minded.”
Sophomore Leah Greene, junior Sara Dowd and Hennessy each scored nine points for Kennedy (14-6).
Woodlands started the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run and cut the deficit to 34-32 after a Nicole Brooks 3-pointer. But that would be as close as the Falcons would get. Kennedy answered with a bucket by senior Cat Purdy followed by a 3-pointer from Greene to increase the lead to 39-33.
“I was a little nervous, but I have confidence in my team,” Dowd said of what went through her mind when Woodlands cut the lead to two points. “I knew we could pull it together.”
The Gaels were held to only one field goal in the third quarter as Woodlands trimmed the deficit to 34-26.
“We lost confidence and stopped attacking the basket, but our defense helped us pull through,” Kennedy coach Al Morales said of the second half. “Not to make excuses, but when you’re playing without your starting two guard (Tara Cremin), you’re putting other people in situations that they’re not accustomed to. But thank God for the first half.”
While nothing was falling in the second half for Kennedy, the first half was a different story. Kennedy led 17-6 early in the second quarter and stretched the lead to 25-10 later in the quarter as the Falcons were plagued by foul trouble.
Woodlands (12-8) was led by sophomore Imani Tilford, who scored a game-high 17 points. Junior Shanice Perry and Brooks netted 10 and nine points, respectively.
After falling in the first round last season, Kennedy is back in the Section 1 Class B semifinals for the second time in three seasons. The Gaels have experience playing at the Westchester County Center this season as they took part in the Slam Dunk Tournament.
“I think we got out the being scared to play at the County Center in front of a million people,” Hennessy said. “But now I think we’re ready for it. My coach thought right from the beginning of the season that we were going to go to the County Center and he was right.”
The Gaels face a daunting task with top-seeded Irvington awaiting them in the semifinals. The Bulldogs are the two-time defending Class B state champions.
“When we get back in the gym all I’m gonna tell them is ‘Don’t change what we’re doing,’” Morales said. “We’ll have to make some adjustments here and there. But you know what, we’re not going to be happy to get back to the County Center again. We’re going to try our best to take advantage. They’re a very good team. Are they probably picked to win it? Yes. But they bleed and they cry just like we do. Anything can happen.”