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Showdown looms

Cancel your plans for January 20. You’ll want to be at August Martin High School in Jamaica, where the home team will face defending Queens ‘AA’ champion Francis Lewis and finally show what we can expect from the Lady Falcons and Patriots in 2008-09.
Apologies are in order here, because the ninth game of a 15-game PSAL girls’ season is a little late for an early-season indicator. Blame the four-team division, which relies on Brooklyn opponents and leaves only two real Queens matchups between now and then. Blame the temporarily odds-tilting questions that still linger about numerous August Martin players’ eligibility. Or blame press time, which kept news of the two teams’ season-opening barnburner from gracing these pages.
Either way, sifting through the lessons of Wednesday, December 3’s game between August Martin and Francis Lewis, won 73-72 by Lewis, is a murky endeavor. Looking at the defeated Lady Falcons, we learned that senior forward Krystina Agard and sophomore forward Starasia Lawley are spearheading the August Martin offense, primed to have their most productive seasons and make the absence of ineligible senior forward Patrice Lewis - and her 24 points per game - less acutely felt. Agard and Lawley scored 36 and 22 points, respectively, last Wednesday.
Lawley “is quick, she’s athletic. I think she got a lot better over the summer,” said Dom Cecala, her coach from the Queens Village-based “Xplosion” AAU team. “Her speed and her ability to get to the basket and get finishes are her best attributes. I think she became a smarter player [this summer].”
Looking at the victorious Patriots, we learned that Francis Lewis bears some signs of a successful team, like a second-half surge that outscored August Martin 43-29 and an uncanny spreading of points among 11 different players. Junior center Sabrina Jeridore led with 17 points.
We also learned that early-season games between August Martin and Francis Lewis have a knack for ending dramatically. Last season, on November 28, August Martin won by three points in overtime.
But the difference between today and 2007-08 - when Francis Lewis finished 12-3, August Martin finished 10-5, and division opponents Benjamin Cardozo and Beach Channel combined for four division wins - is not entirely deciphered.
Francis Lewis, despite the loss of senior guard Sylvia Davis’ 13 points per game, has been energized by three transfer arrivals who were all teammates of Lawley’s on the Xplosion. Jeridore, from Bayonne High School in New Jersey, is one; junior forward Ayana Duncanson, who arrived from Elmont Memorial High School on Long Island, and junior guard Kelly Robinson, a transfer from Archbishop Molloy, are the others.
Cecala has known Robinson since she was ten.
“Every time you put her on the floor, she makes the kids around her better,” he says. “That’s a great quality to have in a kid. She sees the floor better than most of the kids out there right now. I’ve seen so many games by her, and she still surprises me sometimes.”
For Francis Lewis, questions linger about the Patriots’ December 5 loss to South Shore, in which Lewis looked like a team unlike the one that edged out August Martin two days earlier. Most of the Patriots’ scoring, once spread nearly evenly, was funneled to Jeridore and sophomore guard Tatiana Wilson. Lewis, once a second-half specialist, lost its touch as the game wore on. (South Shore outranked Lewis in the city playoffs last year, where both teams were bounced in the quarterfinals.)
Can such a newly-forged team really be a city favorite, as many believe?
“If they can get it together, then that’s a very good PSAL team,” Cecala says. “You’ve got Kelly who’s a true point, you’ve got Sabrina who’s a true ‘five,’ and you’ve got Ayana who can move around a little bit and get things going. I think that they should be OK.”
While all this was happening, the Lady Falcons beat James Madison, 48-38, to improve their season record to 1-1. They should be impressed with their play, and assured by the return of Agard, whose 16 points per game helped the Lady Falcons reach the second round of last year’s city playoffs. Particularly pleasing is the fact that Lawley has started off her first real season on the right foot; she was ineligible for most of last year.
But how long before major contributors like Lewis and junior guard Tinamarie Sasser can return? For a team weakened more by ineligibility than by graduation, how much will their absence grate on Agard and Lawley?
All this amounts to Tuesday, January 20, at 5:00 PM as the foreseeable moment of truth for the Lady Falcons and the Patriots, even if Brooklyn opponents like South Shore and James Madison offer some clues in the interim. If that contest is anything like the one so many saw last Wednesday, it may not matter if August Martin and Francis Lewis truly are city-wide contenders. Either way, the flourishing of a special rivalry will be hard to ignore.

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