By Dylan Butler
Minutes after a 72-64 loss to Midwood in the second round of the PSAL Class A playoffs, Katie Driscoll was still playing the part of point guard.
The senior was quickly distributing a card to her teammates on the Townsend Harris girls’ basketball team for coach Larry Cerulo, who retired Friday after 31 years, 16 with the Hawks.
They presented the card, which along with a framed team photo was signed by each player, as well as a $150 American Express gift check to their coach on the court at Elmcor, but Driscoll was hoping to delay the tearful gift-giving a couple more weeks.
“Cerulo has been a great coach and he’s been encouraging us the whole season,” Driscoll said. “It’s sad to see him leave.”
Cerulo will make the 18-hour drive to his new home in Florida with the knowledge that No. 11 Townsend Harris (17-9) nearly pulled off the upset of No. 6 Midwood, which advances to face No. 3 John F. Kennedy in the quarterfinals.
After trailing by 13 in the third quarter, Driscoll and Shanay Freeman helped get the Hawks within two, 51-49, on a Driscoll layup with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
But Fairleigh Dickinson-bound Freeman, who had 21 points — 10-of-12 from the foul line — and 17 rebounds, was held scoreless the rest of the way and Kamala Miller answered with four of her 22 points to close the quarter.
“My team played excellent and I wish I could have gave more,” said Freeman, who was hampered by a cold. “We had some chances and we missed our shots, but it’s been wonderful. I’m ready to let it go.”
Driscoll, who scored a game-high 25 points, buried a three-pointer to get Townsend Harris within 55-52 to open the fourth quarter, but that was as close as the Hawks would get.
“Honestly, their defense is awesome. It’s hard to penetrate through them,” Driscoll said. “They’re big. They’re aggressive. They’re tough. We tried the best we could.”
Led by super sophomore Melanie Murphy (15 points, eight assists, eight rebounds, five steals) and the interior work of Miller (12 rebounds) and Tomi Abayomi (12 points, 14 rebounds), Midwood quickly extended its lead to 12 on Miller’s foul line jumper and never looked back.
“Our strength is defense,” Murphy said. “A lot of our scoring comes off of transition.”
Playing without injured 6-foot-3 center Maureen Marzano, who rolled her ankle in practice Feb. 10, Midwood (19-9) used a 19-2 run to race out to a 25-11 first-quarter lead and led 41-31 at halftime. But once again, Townsend Harris had a strong second half and nearly delayed Cerulo’s retirement.
“It’s going to hit me when I start taking all the pictures off the wall in my office,” said Cerulo, who also coached softball and bowling at Townsend Harris and who made the basketball playoffs in all but two of his 16 years. “No one will be there, though. It will just be me and my tears.”
Cardozo 46, Sheepshead Bay 36. Marissa Flagg and Britni Bolden scored 15 points apiece for No. 8 Cardozo (18-9), which defeated ninth-seeded Sheepshead Bay Feb. 25 at Lehman College. The Judges will take on five-time defending PSAL champion Bergtraum in the quarterfinals Sunday at Elmcor.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.