At the rate it is going, anything seems possible for the Bethlehem girls basketball team.
“When you get to this point in the season, every team is going to be really good,” said head coach Matthew Bixby. “So, why not keep it going?”
Why not, indeed?
First, the Eagles upended defending champion Shenendehowa for the Section 2 Class AA title. Then it took down another powerhouse, Section 3 champion Cicero-North Syracuse, 59-54 in last Saturday’s regional final at Colgate University’s Cotterell Court.
And that brings Bethlehem into the state final four at Hudson Valley Community College, where it will try and topple two-time defending state champion Ossining Friday night, March 20, to set up a state final Saturday against Rush-Henrietta (who won three straight state championships from 2006 to ’08) or Commack.
It is, put simply, one daunting task after another, but the early returns are that the Eagles (21-2) can handle anything thrown at them as they showed against C-NS. They hit every big shot, both from the field and at the free-throw line, in the fourth quarter, to end the Northstars’ five-year regional championship streak.
“This was a total team effort,” said Bixby. “Every kid out there played their role to perfection.”
And that included the Giacone sisters, Gabby and Jenna. While it was Gabby drawing C-NS’s main defensive attention, especially after she scored 12 of her 14 points in the first half, it was Jenna hitting on four field goals in the fourth quarter as part of her team-high 20 points.
Emily Wander produced 14 points off the bench — none bigger than the four consecutive free throws she made in the final seconds to snuff out C-NS’s final comeback attempt.
C-NS was coming off a record-setting seventh consecutive Section 3 title. In Bethlehem, though, the Northstars dealt with physical mismatches their smaller lineup had to counter through precise execution.
The Northstars led 15-8 late in the first quarter — the run capped by a McKayla Roberts 3-pointer. But Bethlehem caught up and controlled the second quarter, and it didn’t let up until it had a 29-23 lead going into halftime.
Gabby Giacone picked up her third foul less than one minute into the third quarter. When she went to the bench, C-NS pounced with a 10-4 run, including back-to-back baskets from Beth Bonin, which erased the Eagles’ lead.
From that point on, neither team would separate. Up by a point, 37-36, going to the final period, the Northstars answered Wander’s 3-pointer with one from Roberts to go back in front, 40-39. But that was the last time C-NS led.
Staying patient on offense, Bethlehem waited until there were good shots and hit them. Whether it was Wander or Jenna Giacone taking them, the Eagles used screens and connected on their mid-range shots.
C-NS kept drawing fouls on the other end, though. Samantha Tortora hit six straight free throws, the last two of which tied the score at 48-48. But with 2:41 left, Olivia Hughes hit a 3-pointer from the wing, putting Bethlehem ahead for good.
Jenna Giacone hit a jumper that made it 53-48, and after a Roberts free throw, Giacone’s basket with 48.9 seconds left stretched the Eagles’ lead to six points.
Roberts refused to let C-NS surrender, hitting free throws and a 3-pointer with 23.4 seconds left to cut the deficit to 57-54. Wander made two late free throws to seal Bethlehem’s victory.