By Adam Martini
The top-seeded Francis Lewis High School girls’ basketball team nearly hit a dead end on the road to the PSAL ‘A’ semifinals Saturday afternoon.
The Patriots were pushed to overtime by eighth-seeded Curtis before prevailing, 65-57, at Lehman College. Francis Lewis (26-3) will play No. 4 Manhattan Center at St. John’s University Saturday at noon, with the winner advancing to the city championship at Madison Square Garden March 16.
Jasmine Lawrence saved the Patriots’ season by tying the score on a pretty drive to the basket with 24 seconds left in regulation. She was fouled on the play, but failed to hit the free throw, keeping the score tied at 56.
Both teams had one possession in the final seconds with a chance to win the game, but neither could get a shot off.
“The season flashed before my eyes,” Francis Lewis coach Michael Eisenberg said.
Nicole Iannotto made a layup and Maria Miaoulis hit a pair of free throws to give the Patriots a 60-56 lead with 2:12 left in overtime. Teresa Rozza sank four free throws in the final 24 seconds to seal the game. A rejuvenated Patriots’ defense limited Curtis (19-7) to one made free throw in overtime.
“No team goes through the entire playoffs without a bump in the road,” Eisenberg said. “Hopefully, this was our bump.”
Curtis, the Staten Island regular season champs, roared back from an 11-point deficit in the third. Stacey Staniland (15 points) did most of the damage, crashing the offensive boards and scoring around the rim. The Warriors went on a 9-0 run to put Francis Lewis on its heels and tie the game at 40 heading into the fourth.
The lead changed hands nine times in the fourth. Talia Sutton, who scored 17 points, gave the Warriors a 56-54 lead with 58 seconds left. Acasha Gordon, who finished with 13 points, set up the basket by stealing the ball from Rozza and passing it to Sutton.
“It was right there for us,” said Curtis coach Dot Guerriero, who led the school to its last quarterfinal appearance in 1993. “We should have won that game.”
The Patriots settled for outside shots instead of attacking the Warriors’ zone defense in the first half. The offense sputtered in the second with floor leader Rozza on the bench with two fouls and a cold. Still, Francis Lewis built a 30-23 lead at the half, its last points coming on a layup by Lawrence (15 points) to beat the second quarter buzzer.
“We wanted to go back to Madison Square Garden,” said Rozza, whose team lost the title game to Murry Bergtraum at the Garden last season.
Francis Lewis lost the 1998 title game to Manhattan Center. The Patriots could avenge their last two title losses if Bergtraum beats Martin Luther King in the other semifinal game at St. John’s.
Storybook Season Ends for Jamaica
The 20th-seeded Jamaica Lady Beavers played the roll of Cinderella in this year’s playoffs, upsetting No. 12 Susan Wagner and No. 5 James Madison to make it to the quarterfinals.
The clock finally struck midnight on the Lady Beavers’ magical run Saturday as they lost to fourth-seeded Manhattan Center, 56-46. Jamaica (19-9) peaked in the postseason after finishing the regular season in fifth place in the rugged Queens A.
The Lady Rams (25-3) used a 20-point third quarter to pull away from the Lady Beavers. Nakia Baker made two layups and a three-pointer in the third on her way to a team-high 14 points. Manhattan Center forced the game’s tempo, clearly an advantage for the more athletic Lady Rams, and took a 44-30 lead after three.
“We weren’t happy just to get [to the quarterfinals],” Jamaica coach Steve Heiss said. “We came here to win.”
Showing confidence from their previous upsets, the Lady Beavers took an 11-9 lead after one. Jamaica increased its lead to 18-11 when Erica Smith made a layup at 5:08 of the second. With Temple-bound Mercedes Miller in foul trouble, Jamaica was in striking distance, 24-21, when the first half concluded.
“I feel like I didn’t play as well as I could have,” said Smith, who held back tears after the game.
In reality, Smith did all she could. The senior scored the first and last points of the first and all of her team’s nine points in the third. She finished with a game-high 16 points. Letanya Grady added 12 points for Jamaica.
Reach contributing writer Adam Martini by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.