By Mitch Abramson
You know a team is young when they hardly react to a down-to-the-wire, heart-pumping victory. August Martin's girls' basketball team is so young they're still teething. With two freshmen and only one senior in the starting lineup, the Angels are as youthful as their coach, Joel Ascher, is old.
Ascher, in his 25th year on the bench, turns 69 Feb. 24. He's seen basically everything there is to see in high school basketball, and his cool, stress-free facade may be rubbing off on his players.
After 18th-seeded August Martin defeated No. 15 Norman Thomas 59-55 in a first round PSAL Class A playoff game Thursday at the Manhattan school, the Angels' muted reaction made it seem like they had been there, done that too.
Even though August Martin (13-8) won a game they weren't favored to win, the players nonchalantly grabbed their belongings and exited the gym as if they were involved in a tedious fire drill.
“This game will go a long way in terms of giving us confidence,” Ascher said. “We have a lot of good building blocks for the future here. Everyone is back, with the exception of [starter] Denille Evans, so we have a lot to look forward to next year. This is the youngest team I've ever had. These kids keep me young.”
August Martin was led by freshman forward Patrice Lewis' 20 points and Evans' 19 points, all of which she scored in the first half. Without much of a contribution from Evans after the break, August Martin had to rely on a pair of freshman to keep the ship steady as both teams exchanged leads from quarter to quarter and players took turns in the spotlight.
At the end of this furious match, both coaches were visibly exhausted and spoke openly about their future. Norman Thomas coach Ollie Colvin announced a move to Florida and a plan to retire from the PSAL after decades of service while Ascher gave a timetable for how much longer he plans on coaching.
Lewis' two free throws with 3:37 remaining gave August Martin the lead for good at 51-50, and she and freshman Krystin Agard (nine points) scored 14 of their team's final 17 points to lead the school to a second round match-up with second-seeded Grand Street Campus. August Martin broke a five-game losing streak with the playoff victory.
“I was a little nervous before the game, but coach Steve [assistant coach Steve Furtado] told me to relax,” Lewis said. “They were double-teaming Denille in the second-half, so other players were getting open. We just had to step up and make our shots.”
Norman Thomas led 19-11 after the first quarter with 10 points coming from point guard Amber Shamberger, but the Angels kicked off a furious comeback, outscoring the Tigers 21-3 to take a 31-20 lead with under two minutes left in the second. Evans was knocking down three-pointers and was basically unstoppable in that quarter when she scored 14 points to give August Martin a 39-24 lead at the half.
The Angels were able to solve the riddle of Shamberger, a quick footed junior who went scoreless in the second quarter.
Said Ascher, “Our defense wasn't what I had hoped it would be, but we played well when we had to.”
But Norman Thomas, which plays in the same division as top-seeded Bergtraum and knows a thing or two about facing adversity, fought back and outscored August Martin 19-6 in the third quarter and trailed by just 45-43 heading into the fourth.
The Tigers took the lead for the first time since midway through the second quarter on a putback by junior Tiffani Robinson, who came off the bench to make it 50-49 with 3:46 left in the game. Both teams exchanged baskets and the Tigers had a chance to tie the game with 49.5 seconds left but senior Rodesha Donaldson made only one of two free throws to trail August Martin 56-55.
The Angels got two free throws from junior Fachelle Chamble with 9.9 seconds left to put the game away. Although Norman Thomas had six players on the floor in between her first and second free throws, the Tigers were not assessed a technical.
Shortly after the game, Colvin announced his retirement from the school and a move to Florida, hopefully to continue his coaching career there. Ascher said he would coach for three more years and then he is expected to hand over the reigns to Furtado.
Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by E-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 130.