Lady Rams fall short at Class A basketball final, seniors leave mark on future

There was a moment during Saturday’s girls Section 2 Class A championship game when Amsterdam Lady Rams freshman Antonia May lost the ball to Averill Park’s Amelia Wood near mid-court. Wood took the ball and scored two points as May hustled after her trying to keep her from getting to the rim. However, May never even thought of frowning, in fact she never had the chance. Amsterdam senior Giuliana Pritchard walked up to her immediately following the play and encouraged her. May’s expression was one of stronger determination, and moments later she and Pritchard teamed up for a score to keep the Lady Rams in the game. It wasn’t enough to prevent the Averill Park Lady Warriors from claiming their fifth straight Class A title with a 79-60 victory over Amsterdam at the McDonough Sports Complex on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College, but it as more than enough to show how much of an impact the Lady Rams four seniors, Pritchard, Lucia Liverio, Gianna DeRosa, and Taylor Flint have had on their younger teammates in preparing them for more big games ahead.

“The four seniors have shown the way for the younger kids,” Amsterdam coach Eric Duemler said. “When we get back here again they will be a part of it.”

The game was closer than the final score indicated. Averill Park outscored Amsterdam by only three, 38-35 in the second half. The Lady Warriors led 17-12 after the first quarter, but the Lady Rams overcame that advantage and took the lead in the early minutes of the second quarter. A crucial stretch where Averill Park went on a 13-0 run turned out to be the decisive factor in the contest.

“We were definitely in this game,” Pritchard said. “Even when we were down 15, we were right there.”

Pritchard was held scoreless in the first quarter, but just as they had done in the semifinal against Holy Names, her teammates stepped up. May, Liverio, and junior Elena Fedullo all answered points from Stephanie Jankovic, Mallory Wood, and Olivia Kelly to stay within striking distance of the lead. When Lady Warriors eighth grader Amelia Jankovic netted a three point shot to make it 16-7 it looked for a moment like last year’s title game where Kat Stackrow drained seven triples in the Lady Warriors win. This year’s Lady Rams squad showed plenty of resolve in rallying behind points by Liverio and Jackie Stanavich and outscored Averill Park 5-2 in the final minutes of the opening period to trail by only five.

This time, the Lady Rams kept that momentum going into the next period.

Pritchard showed the versatility in her game with a jump shot for her first points of the contest slicing the lead to three at 17-14. A block by Fedullo on the other end led to a free throw by Stanavich as the Lady Rams continued to attack the basket. Stanavich worked her way through the Lady Warriors front court and netted another point from the line making it a one point game. Suddenly, Amsterdam was a step ahead of Averill Park, and their quick motion offense was taking its toll on their opponent. When Pritchard out-hustled the defense and put back a miss on a drive by Stanavich giving Amsteram an 18-17 lead, Lady Warriors coach Sean Organ called time out.

“We made some adjustments on defense so they would have to take perimeter shots,” Coach Duemler said. “Our girls heard that their girls were getting tired, and we were feeding off them getting tired chasing us around.”

Following the time out, Stephanie Jankovic knotted the score at 18 all with a free throw, but Amsterdam’s defense forced Averill Park to work the ball around looking for an opening. Amelia Wood extended the lead to 21-18 on her second three point goal, the last one either team made for the rest of the game. Woods’ steal at mid-court resulted in two more and a five point cushion, but the lead was not safe and Pritchard beat everyone to the basket twice more, the later on another offensive rebound cutting the lead back to one, 23- 22. What occurred next was the game changing 13-0 Averill Park run.

Amelia Wood, Kelley, Stephanie Jankovic, and Kelsey Wood all put points on the board with eight of them coming from the free throw line. After making six of eight tries from the charity stripe in the first quarter, the Lady Warriors stepped to the line for 18 tries in the second quarter, converting on 11 of those attempts. Amsterdam was two for four from the free throw line in the first quarter, and made three of only six attempts in the second quarter. Stanavich, Liverio, and Pritchard all drew contact on trips down the court and on shot attempts, but didn’t get to the line. Overall for the game, a total of 76 free throws were attempted with Averill Park making 28 of 41 shots, and Amsterdam converting on 18 of 35 shots.

“When we took the lead they were fighting back,” Pritchard said. “More things went their way. Give credit to Averill Park they played great. We stuck together which was great for us.”

The two teams continued to force the game inside in the third quarter with Amsterdam striking first as Pritchard trimmed three points off a 41-26 halftime deficit. Averill Park countered with points by Lizzy Burridge and Kelsey Wood boosting the lead to 18 at 46- 28, but the Lady Rams weren’t done and fought back with a 9-0 run led by Fedullo, Pritchard, and May melting the Averill Park margin down to nine, and after a steal by Pritchard at the 3:37 mark, prompted another Lady Warriors time out.

“We never gave up,” Pritchard said. “We battled so hard and made them (Averill Park) earn this win. I’m proud of this team, the younger girls and the seniors.”

Averill Park regrouped and scored the next seven. Seniors Liverio, Pritchard, and Flint responded for the Lady Rams but by the end of the third quarter the lead had ballooned to eighteen points. The game proved to be a battle of stamina with all the shots and points coming on drives close to the rim or from the free throw line. A pair of three shot attempts by Flint were the only tries from the perimeter. The teams nearly drew even with Averill Park outscoring the Lady Rams by only two, 19-17 in the third period. The fourth quarter was more of the same.

The first seven points in the fourth quarter came from the foul line with Pritchard and Flint trading shots with Jankovic and Kelley. Fouls began to take their toll on the Lady Rams as Fedullo, May, and Stanavich all eventually bowed out. Consecutive baskets by Amelia Wood, and Mallory Wood gave Averill Park its largest lead at 70-45. The Lady Rams had one more run in them and behind Pritchard and Stanavich scored another 9-0 run cutting it back to 70-54. As the final minutes faded all four Lady Rams seniors were on the court with freshman Charli Beekman, and later her substitute junior Madison Carmona. Amsterdam was only a point shy of matching Averill Park, at 19 to 18 in the fourth quarter.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this group and their efforts,” Coach Duemler said. “This time we battled, took the lead, and had momentum. We battled on the boards, and we got to the rim and attacked in both the first half and second half of the game.”

The Lady Rams success was due to the seniors and freshman working together for a common goal.

“We overachieved,” Duemler added. “I’m proud of the effort to compete here. It’s a credit to the Amsterdam kids and how much they care.”

Giuliana Pritchard led everyone with a game high 25 points against a talented Averill Park defense that rarely gave up that many points to any one player. Pritchard’s point total for the 2017-2018 season rested at 542 putting her in the top 25 all time in Section 2 girls basketball for scoring in a single season. The senior co- captain finished with 1,256 career points, also among the best in Section 2. Pritchard also managed yet another “double-double” with ten rebounds.

“What a career Giuliana’s had,” Duemler said. “She’s been on varsity since eighth grade and is the hardest worker. She has a 95 grade point average, and leads this team on the court and in practice.”

The Amsterdam Lady Rams were one of 63 New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Section 2 Girls Basketball Scholar Athlete Team for the 2016-2017 season and will likely receive that recognition this year with the majority of the team maintaining a 90.0 or better grade point average. Lady Rams senior Lucia Liverio was among the athletes Coach Duemler mentioned as having a high grade point average. Liverio has been on the varsity team since her sophomore year, and scored 11 points, had two rebounds, and three assists on Saturday. The Lady Rams point guard thrived against tougher competition scoring in double digits in all three title games with Averill Park.

“Lucia has spent three years as our point guard,” Coach Duemler said. “She takes criticism very well and has improved. She had a great game today.”

Seniors Taylor Flint and Gianna DeRosa also gave the Lady Rams good minutes off the bench. Flint scored four points, and DeRosa added one, all from the free throw line after showing no fear against a bigger opponent as part of a Lady Rams offense determined to attack the basket.

“Gianna and Taylor are great every day in practice,” Duemler said. “They have 95 grade point averages, and they work with the younger kids helping them gain confidence.”

The Lady Rams freshman contributed and gained valuable experience in their first sectional final. Jackie Stanavich gathered in ten rebounds and was only one point shy of a ‘double-double’ scoring nine in the Amsterdam cause. Antonia May scored five points making several drives to the basket. AHS junior Elena Fedullo also scored five points and brought down four rebounds. Fedullo, Stanavich , and May give the Lady Rams three returning starters for next season.

Averill Park was led by senior Stephanie Jankovic and eighth grader Amelia Wood who each scored 20 points. Senior Mallory Wood was next with 18 points followed by junior Olivia Kelley with eight points, sophomore Kelsey Wood with seven points, and senior Lizzy Burridge with six points. Averill Park (21-2) advanced to next Saturday’s NYSPHSAA Class A regional final against the winner of the Massena (Section 10) and Jamesville- Dewitt (Section 3) game.

Amsterdam finished with a 20-3 record, a team best over the past three years, all resulting in Class A final appearances. It was also the final high school basketball game for Pritchard, Liverio, DeRosa, and Flint. Over the past several years, the four seniors have built plenty of lasting memories.

“As long as I can remember,” said Taylor Flint when asked how long the four of them have been together as teammates. “We’ve known each other for years and have built relationships on and off the court. We’re family. I will miss all the laughs we’ve shared throughout the years. No regrets.”

Written on the hands of the Lady Rams players were the initials “M.V.F.” out of respect for Flint’s grandmother who passed away last Tuesday.

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.