By Dylan Butler
GLENS FALLS — Maybe it was the naiveté of a young second-year coach, but Joe Lewinger truly believed that the Mary Louis basketball team had what it took to win at the Glens Falls Civic Center, home of the state Federation basketball championships.
Sure no other team in Mary Louis history gone further than the first round of the Catholic state championship and yeah, the Hilltoppers lost six straight early in the year, but day after day Lewinger would talk about getting to Glens Falls like it was some sort of mystical, exotic destination.
Somewhere along the way, his players bought into the idea. So despite seeing a 14-point third quarter lead vanish against Immaculate Heart Central (Watertown) in the Class D final Saturday, senior Donna Lohrey and company believed they would pull it out.
Clinging to a three-point lead, Lohrey stepped to the foul line and buried a pair of free throws with 18 seconds left to seal Mary Louis’ first-ever state Federation championship with a 47-42 victory.
“We had a six-game losing streak early and had to deal with a lot off the court, but the coaches helped so much,” said Molloy College-bound Lohrey, who scored 21 points and was named the game’s MVP. “The week before the Molloy game we really came together. We knew we deserved to be here.”
The Molloy game Lohrey referred to was the first step towards Glens Falls, a game in which the Hilltoppers lost a 10-point fourth quarter lead before she sunk two clutch foul shots with 12 seconds left to lead Mary Louis to a 64-63 win and the right to represent the Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan in the state championship.
When Lewinger saw his team blow a 31-17 lead and, after a 21-6 run by Immaculate Heart (22-4), trailed 38-37 with 3:26 left in the fourth quarter, his thoughts went back to the Molloy game.
Mary Louis (16-13) needed a big play and quiet Carol Jeanne Kavanagh provided a pair of them. First the junior forward slashed to the basket to put the Hilltoppers back ahead, 39-38.
Then, after Liz Strein scored on a layup, Kavanagh grabbed her own rebound and drew the fifth and final foul on Immaculate Heart’s leading scorer Marisa Vespa (18 points). Kavanagh sunk both foul shots as Mary Louis extended its lead to 43-38 with 2:03 left in the fourth quarter.
“She’s been the leading rebounder for us, the spark off the bench,” Lohrey said of Kavanagh, who had six points and eight rebounds. “She’s worked so hard before and after practices.”
On a three-pointer by Megan Fortunato, the Cavaliers got within three, 45-42, with 20 seconds left before Lohrey, who like so many of her teammates was bruised and sore after a punishing 58-43 win over The Dwight School in the semifinals Friday morning, capped a 4-of-5 stretch from the line in the final minute.
“We had to go with what got us here, we had to put our chips on the table,” Lewinger said. “Even though she was slumping a bit, we wanted the ball in Donna’s hands. The difference between last year and this year is that she wants the ball.”
Mary Louis 58, The Dwight School 43. They received black Federation gym bags, but the Hilltoppers probably would have been happier with complementary ice packs after their semifinal win over The Dwight School Friday.
Jill Kenny, who had a half torn anterior cruciate ligament, left the game with a knee injury in the first half. After drawing several offensive fouls, Rachele Burriesci limped off the court with an assortment of bruises. Erin Breen also went down with a mild ankle injury after tripping over her own feet late in the second half. Lohrey (14 points) took a shot in the mouth and Strein (10 points) had a bloody nose.
“When you have four girls cringing after the game, you know you played hard,” Burriesci said.
Danielle Cooper led Dwight (22-8) with 27 points.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.