Erkyah Russell watched from the sidelines as Nazareth’s commanding, 16-point, first-quarter lead disappear in the second frame, and she knew she had to come in and make a difference.
“Sitting on the bench watching the momentum go down, I came into the third quarter excited and ready to get that lead back,” Russell said.
The 6-foot-1 junior forward did just that by scoring all of her 15 points in the second half to lead the Lady Kingsmen to a 73–61 victory over McKee-Staten Island Tech in the New York State Federation Class A girls’ basketball semifinal at UAlbany on March 27.
A big second half run from Nazareth has been a staple its playoff success.
“At the tail end of our season we have been very resilient coming back from defects,” said Lady Kingsmen Coach Ron Kelley. “They believe in each other and they are very confident in our defense. When you have a team like that, they believe they can come back and do what they have to do.”
Trailing 38–37 midway through the third quarter, Nazareth went on an 11–0 run, led by six points from Russell to take a 48–38 lead. Alaina Lynch hit a three to cut the Lady Kingsmen advantage to 48–41 at the end of three. The run came from Nazareth playing together like it did to start the game.
“We all want it now. Everybody is working together, we are being a team,” said junior guard Niya Johnson, who scored a team-high 22 points.
The Lady Kingsmen used junior leaders Johnson and Russell in the fourth quarter to pull away with a victory and gain the opportunity to win the school’s first Federation crown since it won a AA title in 2001.
“A championship is a championship,” Johnson said. “Our emotions have been like a roller coaster all year, but we have been able to maintain a flat line of emotion, which is pushing us to each level.”
Nazareth will play for that championship on Sunday when they take on Williamsville South (Section 6) at high noon. Kelley is happy with the opportunity, despite believing his 10–19 team is AA-caliber squad.
“I would rather be playing AA,” Kelley said. “We are an AA team, and I think it’s a little bit unfair for us to be playing ‘A’ basketball. Those are the rules and we have to do it. I think it’s unfair to other teams like Kellenberg and Spellman. Those really good ‘A’ teams that never get a chance to come up. So while I am happy to be here, and want to win this game for the championship, I would rather be playing AA.”
Christ the King 71, South Shore 67: McDonald’s All-American Brianna Fraser scored a single-game tournament record 46 points for South Shore, but the Vikings blew a 53–43 lead with 7:07 remaining in the Class AA girls’ basketball semifinals. Dominique Toussaint made three-straight free throws after the score was tied at 65–65 to put the Royals (21–7) ahead for good. South Shore (23–4) cut the lead to 69–67 with seven seconds left, but couldn’t get any closer.
Toussaint paced Christ the King, scoring 14 of her 28 points in the fourth quarter, and Sydney Zambrotta tallied 18 of her 26 points after halftime. Amada Cruz added seven points for the Vikings. The defeat ends a 12-game winning streak for South Shore. Its last loss was to Christ the King on Jan. 11
“I thought they played tough, just didn’t finish it out,” said Vikings coach Anwar Gladden. “Last time we didn’t close the game out either, that’s why they beat us twice.