Cara Waterson personally saw to it that there would be no overtime.
The senior guard raced down the court and prevented Kaylee Rickert from hitting a tying layup with 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter to help Albany pull out a 51-47 victory over Bethlehem in Thursday’s Section II Class AA girls basketball semifinal at Hudson Valley Community College.
Rickert had nothing but open court after receiving a halfcourt pass. Waterson, though, never gave up on the play. She arrived first to the basket and disrupted Rickert’s attempt at the shot without fouling her.
“I just went back to what I learned in basketball,” said Waterson. “It was a matter of putting everything into that sprint and then getting good body position.”
“A team like that is not just going to let us go down and get the tying layup,” said Bethlehem coach Matt Bixby. “They hustled and they got it.”
The game was a rematch of last year’s Class AA final, which Albany won 64-47. This time, Bethlehem (17-3) stayed with Albany step for step before falling at the end.
“We played great tonight,” said Bixby. “We executed very well. We worked our butts off this week in preparation for this game.”
One trend returned from last year’s game: Albany’s defensive intensity disrupting Bethlehem’s offense. The Falcons (18-1) used their long reach trapping skills to force the Lady Eagles into several turnovers.
“They’re just so long and athletic, and that’s nothing we see on a regular basis,” said Bixby. “I thought for the most part that we handled it well.”
Bethlehem’s defense returned the favor, though. The Lady Eagles also forced Albany into several timely turnovers to keep themselves close.
“We knew if any team could stay with us, it was Bethlehem,” said Albany coach Decky Lawson.
Ultimately, it was an 8-0 Albany run that proved to be the difference in the game. The run spanned from the latter stages of the third quarter through the early part of the fourth quarter and turned a 36-35 Bethlehem lead into a 43-36 Albany advantage.
It looked even bleaker for Bethlehem when Gabby Giacone, who scored 18 points over the first three periods, collected her fourth personal foul and had to sit on the bench early in the fourth quarter. However, Jenna Giacone scored eight of her 18 points in the final stanza to get the Lady Eagles back within a possession of tying the game.
“I think top to bottom that they were symbolic of the way the whole team played tonight,” Bixby said of the Giacone sisters. “They had great energy and enthusiasm on both ends of the court.”
Waterson, though, made certain that Bethlehem didn’t tie the game. And when Mylah Chandler hit a pair of free throws with 9.1 seconds left, Albany had its ticket punched to the Sectional final.
“I’m so proud of how we came together as a team in the fourth quarter,” said Waterson. “We were frustrated because we knew we had more to put out there, and to do it is just awesome.”
“We’re going to be disappointed about this for a while,” said Bixby. “Let me be clear, though. We’re not disappointed in how we played. We’re disappointed in the outcome.”
Chandler had 12 points, while Waterson and Ayana Hunter each added 11 points for Albany, which meets Shenendehowa in Monday’s Sectional final at the Times Union Center.