Undermanned Bowne no match for Curtis in ‘A’ Final

No matter how much John Bowne downplayed the absence of Shakema Johnson - their best all-around player, according to Coach Bruce Bitterman - the Wildcats could not get over her absence due to left shoulder inflammation, an injury she sustained in their 55-52 semifinal victory over Martin Van Buren.
“Once we found out ‘Kema’ wasn’t going to play,” senior guard Brittany Mitchell said, “some people got down.”
It certainly looked that way. Without Johnson, the talented sophomore who averaged 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists this season, No. 6 Bowne barely stood a chance against top-seeded Curtis in the PSAL Class A championship game at St. Francis College in Brooklyn last Saturday afternoon.
The Warriors scored the first 11 points of the first quarter, and the first 13 after halftime en route to their first city championship, 52-23. The Wildcats had no answer for 6-foot-3 center Victoria Macaulay (game-high 22 points) in the paint, or forward Michelle Clay (15 points, eight rebounds) on the wing, but their inability to maneuver against the press was their eventual downfall.
Most opponents did not employ backcourt pressure against the sure-handed Wildcats this season, but that was with Mitchell and Johnson - dual ball handlers - to deal with. This time, with only one of them available, Curtis relentlessly attacked, repeatedly turning Bowne over with their 2-2-1 full court press.
“I know it would’ve been a different game [if she played],” said the teary-eyed Mitchell, who led the Wildcats with eight points, of Johnson’s absence. “She takes all the pressure off of me.”
Bitterman did not want to use excuses. He did admit to missing Johnston, although he quickly pointed out the Wildcats were right there, down 17-11 at halftime after their horrid start. If not for Johnson’s 3-pointer with 2:05 to go in the first quarter, it would have been a scoreless opening stanza. However, thanks to all five of Jennifer Rios’s points in the second quarter, the deficit was manageable at the half.
Bowne, who shot just 18 percent (8-for-44) from the field, knew Johnson would be unavailable for much of the week. They had spirited practices without her, and other girls stepped up against Curtis in the early going. Then, their nerves took over, Mitchell said. In the third quarter, they were out-scored 23-8.
“We got away from what we were doing in the first half,” Bitterman said. “I was really surprised what happened in the third quarter. They got away from what we worked on and the roof caved in.”
The heartbreaking end, Bitterman said, does not take away from their brilliant season that included a share of the Queens A regular season title with Martin Van Buren and the first girls basketball finals appearance in the Flushing school’s history. Two years ago, the Wildcats could not sniff the playoffs. Now, they are one of the city’s perennial powers in the ‘A’ division.
“It was a great year - nobody expected us to be here,” Bitterman said. “You have to be disappointed to play in the final and lose, but five kids got into a championship game and played. That’s something that has got to be a thrill for them.”
Said Mitchell: “I’m proud. A lot of other teams didn’t get this far.”

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