Lady Rams basketball open with big win over Niskayuna

The 2016-2017 Amsterdam Lady Rams varsity basketball team opened their season with a big opponent and came away with a big win. Amsterdam put only four players in the scoring column, but it was more than enough as Nina Fedullo and Giuliana Pritchard teamed up for 37 points leading the Lady Rams over the Niskayuna Lady Silver Warriors 53-34 Wednesday night at Amsterdam High School.

“You only get one chance to make a first impression,” Amsterdam coach Eric Duemler said after the game. “We were tested early and we persevered. I’m happy. We go back to work tomorrow and get ready for Gloversville.”

The Lady Rams were tested with some anxious moments early, even before the opening tip. Everything paused for a moment when AHS’ all time leading scorer Nina Fedullo rolled her ankle attempting a rebound during warm ups. Four of Fedullo’s teammates carefully helped her to her feet and she limped off the court. However, the injury had no impact as Fedullo was attended to by team trainer Carla Pasquarelli and returned before the end of the practice session. What could have been an area of equal concern during the game was Nina Fedullo picking up her second foul in the first quarter. But, this group of Lady Rams repeatedly showed that they are prepared for just about any adversity.

Amsterdam struggled to find some consistency in the first quarter. With Fedullo on the bench with two fouls, the Lady Rams had no trouble taking shots, but were not converting. Amsterdam continued to battle through a Niskayuna defense that included 6′ 4” Olivia Owens, and 6 foot tall Tyra O’Meally, but making free throws was elusive as the Lady Rams made only three of nine attempts. The one bright spot on offense in the opening frame for Amsterdam was Pritchard, who scored five of her 18 points in the first period despite being knocked down several times without the benefit of a foul call. That didn’t deter the fourth-year varsity starter. Pritchard took a pass from point guard Lucia Liverio and glided to the rim cutting Niskayuna’s lead to 9-7 at the close of the first quarter.

“That just made me work harder,” Pritchard said. “Knowing I wasn’t getting the call didn’t bother me. I just continued to play hard to get it back.”

Trust is something this version of the Lady Rams possess, and something coach Eric Duemler knew he would have when he put Nina Fedullo back on the floor to start the second quarter. Trust that is, that should wouldn’t pick up her third foul.

“We went right back to her (Fedullo) in the second quarter,” Duemler said. “It’s good that we can trust that Nina or Giuliana are not going to pick up a cheap foul.”

Fedullo quickly tied the game on a put back in the opening minute of the second quarter. Amsterdam’s defense continued to play in typical tenacious fashion leading in tips, deflections and transition baskets. A steal by Fedullo turned into points by Pritcahrd giving AHS its first lead since the opening minutes of the game. A pair of free throws following another Niskayuna turnover boosted that lead to 13-9 before Niskayuna rolled off six in a row on baskets by Jocelynne Hamilton, Megan Mausert, and Owens to take a 15-13 lead. But, there’s more to the Lady Rams game than just a drive to the rim. While contending with Fedullo and Pritchard close to the rim, Niskayuna had not been paying much attention to Brady Santiago or Maria Lomanto on the wing and behind the three point stripe. That proved to be a big mistake. On the Lady Rams’ next trip down the floor, Santiago made a wide open three point shot. Moments later, Fedullo hauled in a defensive rebound and drove the length of the court. Owens met her at the rim diverting the shot, but never had a chance at the rebound. Amsterdam’s Grace Catena followed the play and took a rebound away from Owens underneath the Niskayuna basket. As her momentum carried her out of bounds, Catena alertly passed the ball to Fedullo, who put a shot over Owens giving Amsterdam the lead for good at 18-15. That was the spark that the Lady Rams needed, leading to ignite an AHS win.

“Grace gives her best effort every time she’s on the floor,” Coach Duemler said. “She’ll give every ounce she has, and she’s similar to Autumn (Duemler). A tough kid.”

Catena was part of an Amsterdam bench that proved the Lady Rams have plenty of flexibility and depth despite only having ten players on the roster. All ten players got into the game on Wednesday and made the most of their time on the court. Each Amsterdam player had at least one rebound before the night was through.

A steal and a drive by Fedullo boosted Amsterdam’s lead to 20-16. Pritchard took a pass from Fedullo in the lane and increased the advantage to 23-17 as the Lady Rams answered Niskayuna free throws with two point plays. The AHS bench continued to work hard on both ends of the floor and a steal by Taylor Flint gave Santiago another look at a three helping AHS take a 26-19 lead at the end of the first half.

“Our bench played great,” Coach Duemler said. “Grace (Catena), Taylor (Flint) gave us energy. The bench gave us a spark, and we had both Brady and Maria hit threes. Both of them are knock down shooters.”

Lomanto connected for her only basket of the game, a long distance three that put Amsterdam up 29-21 early in the third quarter. Niskayuna made one more run at the Lady Rams lead spurting off six straight points on baskets from Owens, O’Meally, and Maddy Black cutting the margin to 29-27 when the Lady Rams endured a brief cold spell going 0 for 6 on three point tries. Pritchard was undaunted inside though and put back a pair of three point misses to halt the Niskayuna rally. A steal by Fedullo turned into a drought breaking three by Santiago, her third of the game, putting AHS back up by nine. Fedullo ended the third period with a drive to the rim on an assist by Liverio for a 38-29 Lady Rams lead as the game moved to the fourth quarter. Niskayuna however, was without the services of Owens, who picked up her fourth foul only two minutes into the third quarter, and the star center of the Lady Silver Warriors spent part of the final period watching from the bench.

“We talked about shot faking her,” Coach Duemler said on drawing fouls on Owens. “When she got that second one we were going at her trying to draw another one. It was a big difference when she was not on the court.”

Even when Owens was on the court, Amsterdam proved to be a formidable team with Fedullo and Pritchard doing most of the scoring. The duo, now in their fourth season as teammates on the varsity squad, collected 37 points and 15 rebounds.

“Giuliana got under the basket and matched up playing a physical game,” Coach Duemler said. “Nina hurt her ankle during warm ups but she said she was ready to go. Nina was super excited to play this game tonight.”

“This was a very physical game and you just have to fight through,” added Pritchard. We really put it together as a team.”

That teamwork continued as the Lady Rams outscored Niskayuna 15-5 in the fourth quarter. Fedullo coasted in for a lay up giving AHS its biggest lead at 40-29. Santiago netted her team high fourth three pointer increasing that advantage to 43-29. Another punishing drive by Pritchard pushed the lead to 48-31, and another to 50-31. Owens returned for the Lady Silver Warriors and had all of their fourth quarter points. Fedullo’s final points came from behind the three point stripe as she showed the all around game that will take her to the College of Saint Rose court next year. Fedullo finished with a game high 19 points.

“We fought very hard,” Fedullo said. “In transition, on offense and defense. We’re there for each other on and off the court.”

Brady Santiago came off the bench to net 12 points for the Lady Rams. The other four points belonged to Maria Lomanto. Santiago also grabbed six rebounds. Elena Fedullo and Grace Catena each had three rebounds. Catena had three steals. Lucia Liverio had six assists and a pair of rebounds. Lomanto, Taylor Flint, Gianna Derosa, and Janina Sjoberg playing in her first high school varsity basketball game, each had one rebound for Amsterdam.

“Our bench had great energy,” Coach Duemler said. “They hustled. We have no issues going to the bench.”

Owens led Niskayuna with 11 points and seven rebounds. Tyra O’ Meally scored six points, Megan Mausert and Morgan Kelleher had four points each, Allie Greco, Joelynne Hamilton, and Maddy Black had three points each for the Lady Silver Warriors.

Most of the Lady Rams players have been playing together as a team well before their high school years. At the high school level, most of them have been together for at least three years. That familiarity could carry them far into March 2017 when sectionals and beyond will be played. When asked what’s at the heart of the Lady Rams team concept, Pritchard answered,“our chemistry.”

The Lady Rams will next take the court for a game against Gloversville on Monday, December 12. Tip time for the varsity contest is scheduled for 7pm.

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.