The first time Bethlehem met Shenendehowa this girls basketball season, the Plainsmen rallied from a big deficit to defeat the Eagles by four points.
A similar scenario developed in Saturday’s Section II, Class AA quarterfinal game between the two Suburban Council teams, only this time, Bethlehem hung on for a 49-42 victory over Shen in Clifton Park.
The Eagles (14-8) built a 15-point halftime lead and fended off a late Shen rally to advance to their first Sectional semifinal appearance since winning the 2003 class A title the year before class AA was added.
They played well from the outset,` said Bethlehem coach Mark Nealon. `They may not have finished as strong as they would have liked, but they played well.`
`We dug ourselves quite a hole, and the big reason was Bethlehem. They played a tremendous first half,` said Shen coach Ken Strube.
After building a 12-9 lead in the first quarter, Bethlehem took off in the second quarter. Three-point plays by Christine Murphy and Kiersten Swete sparked a 16-4 run that gave the Eagles a 28-13 halftime lead.
`In our locker room (before the game), we did our cheers, and we came out strong,` said Alex McCullough, who scored six points in the first half.
Shen (17-4) didn’t help itself in the second quarter. The Plainsmen tried matching Bethlehem by taking several driving layup attempts, but their shots didn’t fall. By period’s end, the only points Shen scored were from the free throw line, where it went 4-for-6.
`You know those practice lids that you use to practice rebounds? It’s almost like they didn’t take them off,` said Strube.
Strube shook things up in the third quarter by putting five reserves in to start the period. Though it didn’t help the Plainsmen in the scoring column, the move boosted Shen’s defense, as the reserves forced several Bethlehem turnovers in the first three minutes.
`All year long, different players have come up and gotten the job done,` said Strube. `The group that started the third quarter, we call them the vets. They’re a tight group of kids that play well together, and we hoped they’d do the job.`
With Bethlehem having trouble holding on to the ball, Shen began chipping away at the double-digit deficit. The Plainsmen pulled within 11 points by the end of the third quarter, and then Bre O’Dell opened the fourth quarter with a three-pointer to make the score 35-27.
The Eagles pushed the lead back to 13 points midway through the fourth quarter, but the Plainsmen didn’t go away. Another three-pointer by O’Dell and five points from Carey Turner late in the quarter got Shen within five points before three free throws from McCullough in the final minute sealed Bethlehem’s victory.
`We were a little shaky (in the final four minutes), but we encouraged each other, and we got through it,` said McCullough, who finished with 11 points.
`We didn’t shoot great from the free throw line, but we got to the point where we got into the double bonus (two free throws), so some of the pressure was taken off,` said Nealon.
Swete led Bethlehem with 12 points, while Meg Olsen matched McCullough’s 11-point performance. O’Dell had 14 points for Shen.
Bethlehem will face another familiar Suburban Council foe in Wednesday’s class AA semifinals at Hudson Valley Community College ` Gold Division rival Guilderland. The Lady Dutch defeated Catholic Central 37-32 their quarterfinal game Saturday.
`I’ve got a lot of respect for coach (Frank) Cacckello and the Guilderland program. You know they’ll play great defense, and they’ll play hard,` said Nealon.“