The writer is a Spotlight Newspaper intern and a student at Bethlehem Central High School.
With 11.3 seconds left in last Saturday’s Section II, Class AA final at Hudson Valley Community College, Bethlehem’s Megan Olsen is at the free throw line. The Lady Eagles have a three-point lead and are close to avenging last year’s loss to Shenendehowa.
Olsen misses the first free throw, and the Shen crowd goes wild.
The building quiets again. Olsen begins to shoot, everything goes into slow motion. You can taste the tension in the air.
The shot is up, it’s over the rim and it is in, like a dagger through the Plainsmen’s heart.
Bethlehem wins the title 46-42.
It’s unbelievable. We finally did it, said senior center Alex McCullough. `It feels great.`
But let’s start at the beginning.
`Welcome to the main event,` booms over the P.A. system as the game gets underway. Shen quickly builds a four-point lead, but then something clicks with Bethlehem’s offense. The Lady Eagles (18-6) go on a 13-0 run to grab an eight-point advantage.
The Plainsmen (18-5) don’t back down. They come back with six consecutive points to end the quarter down only 13-10.
As the second quarter starts, it’s clear that the Plainsmen do not have anyone big enough to stop McCullough, who scores 13 of her 14 points in the first half to help Bethlehem build a 29-20 halftime lead.
Starting the second half nine points down seemed to energize the Plainsmen, who came out of the locker room on fire and cut Bethlehem’s lead to five points. They also find an answer for McCullough: get her into foul trouble. The only problem was Shen has even fewer answers for McCullough’s back-up, Rosie McKee, who scored eight points and contributed four offensive rebounds.
`Rosie had a great game coming up with rebounds and hitting big shots,` said Olsen.
But then things start to get interesting in the fourth quarter. Shen cuts the lead to only two points with less than one minute remaining in regulation.
`I’m sure Bethlehem was a little nervous when we cut it to two,` said Shenendehowa head coach Ken Strube. `But they made a couple plays when they had to, and that is the mark of a champion.`
Who is `they?` It was Olsen, the Class AA tournament’s most valuable player. Olsen steals the ball and is fouled as she attempts a layup.
`The best defender in the area. has unbelievable lateral movement and is strong,` proclaimed coach Mark Nealon. `Thirty seconds left in the game, she still has that kind of energy and wherewithal to get that steal. You wouldn’t expect anything less from that girl.`
As her second free throw goes in and the crowd goes wild, the Lady Eagles get back into their defense. They force Shen to take a long-range three-pointer, which is an air ball that goes out of bounds. Taylor Teal then takes the ball and in-bounds it as the final buzzer goes off.
All in one instant three of the team’s seniors, Teal, Olsen and McCullough scream and run to center court where they embrace and celebrate their championship.
`We knew this game would be a battle and it was,` said Olsen as she laughed under her breath. `And we came out on top.`
`It’s been a long time coming. Coming here three years in a row and just coming up short last year; we are going to treasure this one,` said Nealon.
Bethlehem travels to Liverpool High School Saturday to face Section III champion Cicero-North Syracuse in the Class AA regional final.“