Valiant effort comes up short for Lady Rams in Section 2 title game

The chance to become Amsterdam High School’s first girls sports team sectional champion will have to wait another year, at least for the Amsterdam Lady Rams varsity basketball team. Saturday afternoon, Amsterdam overcame several obstacles against defending champion Averill Park, but a final surge to the lead in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter by the Lady Warriors turned out to be the deciding factor and the Lady Rams season came to an end 68-63 in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Section 2 Class A title game at Hudson Valley Community College.

“We had our opportunities,” said Amsterdam coach Eric Duemler, who was coaching in his first sectional title game since taking the helm of the AHS varsity team 15 years ago. “The girls played their hearts out. I can’t be more proud of their effort.”

The 2015-2016 Amsterdam Lady Rams became the school’s first girls basketball team to reach a sectional championship game since the 1993-1994 Amsterdam team faced Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in the Class B title contest twenty two years ago.

“We were tied with a minute left,” Coach Duemler said. “We had a couple of good looks, but the shots didn’t fall in.”

Amsterdam led 61-59 after a lay up by senior Kaitlyn Devine with two minutes and fifty seconds (2:50) left to play and was ready to increase their lead when junior forward Nina Fedullo stole the ball and bolted down the middle of the court. Averill Park’s Samantha Laranjo got back to contest Fedullo’s shot that went off the rim, and less than thirty seconds later, Laranjo, who led the Lady Warriors with 17 points tied things up at 61-61 with a lay up setting off a series of events leading to the exciting conclusion.

“Our defense in the paint was phenomenal and she (Laranjo) still beat us,” Coach Duemler said of Laranjo, a senior who also earned the MVP award for the Class A tournament. “Emotions are a roller coaster. We tried to get fouls, but we just couldn’t get them.”

Averill Park’s Mallory Wood made sure that Amsterdam’s next possession was a short one when she intercepted a pass near mid court, but the 5′ 10” sophomore was called for an offensive foul when she collided with Devine on her way to the rim. Wood, one of Averill Park’s tallest players, fouled out with 2:05 remaining in the game. However, the Lady Rams didn’t capitalize and turned the ball over after another steal by Laranjo with less than two minutes to play.

“We had some bad possessions near the end,” said Nina Fedullo, who finished with a game high 18 points. “It led to turnovers.”

Olivia Kelley, who replaced Mallory Wood in the Averill Park lineup, gathered in a key offensive rebound with 1:14 left on the clock. Eighteen seconds later, Wood’s younger sister, eighth grader Kelsey, was fouled after an inbound pass and made a pair of free throws giving the Lady Warriors a slim 63-61 lead. Amsterdam’s chances of winning grew dimmer when Stephanie Jankovic intercepted another pass and made a short trip to the basket boosting the lead to 65-61 with 51.5 seconds to play. A free throw by Kelsey Wood upped the margin to 66-61 as time began to fade on the Lady Rams season, but an always resilient Amsterdam team wasn’t about to go quietly into the Section 2 history books.

Amsterdam’s all time scoring leader in girls basketball, Nina Fedullo, finished her junior season with 1,059 career points on the Lady Rams ensuing trip down the floor by taking a pass to the rim and cutting the lead to three as the clock reached 38.7 seconds. Amsterdam needed a turnover and got one when Laranjo was called for a traveling violation, and with several three point shooters on the roster there was hope the Lady Rams could yet tie the game and perhaps push their season to one more week. Time was called to set up a play with 28.6 seconds showing.

Amsterdam got the ball inbound and worked it around the perimeter of the three point arc, and eventually into the hands of Lady Rams’ three point shot leader, junior Brady Santiago who drew plenty of attention from Averill Park defenders but faded back and got a shot away that was on target for the net. A strong contingent of Amsterdam fans rose to their feet as the gym went silent for a moment anticipating a chance to erupt with a tie score. Santiago’s shot fell short of the rim and was taken in by Kelley, who scored the last points with less than ten seconds on the clock. The Lady Rams tried to create another turnover instead of sending someone to the foul line as Averill Park moved the ball up the floor, but the Lady Warriors passed the ball effectively resulting in Kelley’s basket and the final 68-63 margin.

“Brady’s a great shooter,” Coach Duemler said. “It looked good when she let it go.”

“We had our runs at the lead,” said Giuliana Pritchard. “They just happened to get the last one.”

Amsterdam led by two at halftime, and by as many as six in the third quarter with an offense that closely resembled a college basketball team using screens and back door cuts to the basket by everyone that was on the floor. The Lady Rams had to overcome early foul trouble by both Fedullo and Devine, but as they had done game after game, showed that their offense was multi-dimensional.

Averill Park led 4-0 in the first quarter with nearly four minutes lapsed before Giuliana Pritchard found herself alone under the rim for an easy two. Kathryn Stackrow connected for the first three point shot for Averill Park boosting the lead to 7-2 in front of Fedullo’s first basket that helped ignite the Lady Rams offense. Devine’s second foul sent her to the bench leaving the point guard duties in the more than capable hands of sophomore Lucia Liverio, who had started the Lady Rams first 14 games as Devine recovered from an ankle sprain prior to the start of the season. Liverio was poised to have a breakout game and quickly showed her potential when she found Autumn Duemler cutting to the basket to slice the lead to 8-6 and then took in a defensive rebound and outraced everyone down the court for a lay up to tie the game. Liverio struck again with a pass to Pritchard headed for the rim to later knot things up at 10-10 and took matters into her own hands driving to the rim twice more and in the process giving AHS its first lead 13-12 after one period of play.

“She doesn’t play like a sophomore,” Coach Duemler said of Liverio who finished with a personal season best 12 points. “She and Kaitlyn Devine give us a two headed monster at the point guard position.”

Devine returned to start the second quarter and immediately found Fedullo for a 15-12 Lady Rams advantage, but Averill Park fought back with a spurt of their own getting points from Jankovic, and Mallory and Kelsey Wood to pull out in front 18-15. The lead however was short lived when Santiago answered with her first triple, and Devine got the lead back for AHS on a pass from Autumn Duemler. The defending champs though were up the challenge and Averill Park surged ahead once again on five straight points from Laranjo. Amsterdam countered with points from Pritchard and Autumn Duemler cutting the lead to one. Liverio took the floor once again providing another spark to the Lady Rams offense and quickly gave AHS a 28-27 advantage on her next drive to the rim. The lead was a brief one, but Liverio wasn’t done providing moments for the AHS highlight reel.

Kelsey Wood gave Averill Park a 29-28 lead as the clock ticked down in the first half. The crowd and the Amsterdam bench counted down the seconds as Liverio and Maria Lomanto looked for a good shot. At the last possible moment Lomanto tossed the ball back to Liverio who threw up a prayer near mid court that went in as the horn sounded ending the first half and sending the AHS bench into a frenzy.

“I didn’t want this to be the last game,” said Liverio. “I thought Maria would take the shot, but she passed it back to me and I was off balance and threw it up. I knew I had to step up today.”

Amsterdam held a 31-29 lead heading into the third quarter where they increased the lead to five after baskets by Fedullo and Devine, and later six points when Santiago’s second three point shot produced a 38-32 margin. Laranjo, Kelley, and Mallory Wood got the lead back for Averill Park at 41-38 before three straight points from Pritchard tied the score. Baskets from Autumn Duemler and Fedullo countered points by Jankovic and Mallory Wood to even things up at 46-46, but Jankovic’s two and a put back by Kelsey Wood at the buzzer gave Averill Park a 50-46 lead heading into a furious fourth quarter.

“We worked hard to get here,” Liverio said. “We just pushed it to the last minute.”

The Class A title game was the finale of a day long event at the McDonough Sports Complex on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, but neither of the three previous contests were nearly as close as the game between the Lady Rams and Lady Warriors. The Class C, B, and D games all saw fourth quarter fades by one team as the victors pulled away to win. That was not the case for an Amsterdam team that was clearly ready for the challenge of playing the Class A top seed.

Averill Park’s lead grew to seven when a jump shot by Jankovic made it 54-47 and later at 56-49 on a shot by Stackrow, but the gears of the AHS offense were still working and all five players on the floor worked together to get points from Liverio, Fedullo, and Pritchard to tie things up at 59-59 with 3:15 left in the game leading to Devine’s go ahead basket, and Amsterdam’s last lead of the game.

“We were there with under two to go,” Coach Duemler said. “The girls gave everything they had. It’s been a great experience. Give a lot of credit to the seniors for their leadership. We hope to be back here next year.”

“We are amazingly proud,” Pritchard said. “We played as hard as we could. I’m proud of everybody.”

Pritchard and Fedullo were named to the NYSPHSAA Section 2 Class A All Tournament Team along with Averill Park’s Laranjo, who was named the MVP, and Stephanie Jankovic. Troy’s Sabrina Wolfe, and Hudson Falls’ Bri McKinney were also named to the team.

“This is learning experience,” Fedullo said. “We know we have to work harder to get where we want to be. It’s a lesson for us and definitely something we can build on for next year.”

Fedullo will return to lead a talented Amsterdam team that will include Pritchard, Liverio, Santiago, Lomanto, Grace Catena, and Victoria Barone-Lopez, who all now have at least one year of varsity experience. That roster will be supported by the likes of Gianna Derosa, Taylor Flint, Karly Power, and Fedullo’s younger sister Elena, who were called up to the varsity level after starting on the junior varsity team. The game was the last in an Amsterdam uniform for Kaitlyn Devine, Autumn Duemler, Rayven Roach, Jailene Irizarry, Gabriella Catena, and Braelin Aldi, who during their time in the Amsterdam program have contributed to its success in reaching the title game.

Fedullo’s 18 points and 10 rebounds was her eleventh “double-double” of the season. Pritchard was next on the scoring charts for Amsterdam with 13 points, followed by Liverio’s 12. Devine finished with eight points, Autumn Duemler and Santiago each contributed six points in the AHS effort. Maria Lomanto had two rebounds and Grace Catena added one assist for an Amsterdam team that finished with a 17-6 record and its first Foothills Council title.

Averill Park (15-8) was led by Laranjo’s 17 points, followed by 16 from Kelsey Wood, and 11 by Jankovic. Mallory Wood added 10 points, Stackrow was next with nine points, and Kelley finished with six points for a Lady Warriors team that won its third straight Class A title and fifth in the last six years.

Other title winners crowned on Saturday at HVCC were Lake George, a 36-27 winner over Mekeel Christian Academy in Class C, Glens Falls, a 45-36 winner over Hoosick Falls in Class B, and Fort Edward, who defeated Argyle 40-21 in Class D. Winners advance to the sub-regionals next week at different locations throughout the NYSPHSAA.

Scott Mulford

Scott Mulford has been covering local sports for over 20 years. He previously wrote for the Amsterdam Star and The Free Press of the Mohawk Valley.