By MARC RAIMONDI
ALBANY — Marissa Puzino could have been in sunny Virginia this weekend, starting at shortstop for the Archbishop Molloy softball team in a tournament down there. The Stanners chose a different trip, though — one to overcast and frigid upstate New York.
“It’s my last hurrah for basketball and it’s only the beginning of softball,” Puzino said. “I made the decision. [Softball Coach Maureen] Rosenbaum understood completely.”
It was one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
Puzino, a reserve, was one of the heroes in a historic victory for her school. She hit the go-ahead three-pointer and had eight straight Molloy points bridging the third and fourth quarters to lead the Stanners to a 53-48 win over Peekskill in the New York State Federation Class A girls’ basketball championship game Saturday at the Times Union Center.
“Big, big shots,” Molloy Coach Tom Catalanotto said with a broad smile.
Molloy (18-13) had staged a mini-comeback to tie the game at 30 on two Carolyn Gallagher free throws with 46.1 seconds left in the third, but things were still very much up in the air with an entire quarter to go. Puzino got started what ended up being the game-winning spurt.
With star Amani Tatum on the bench in foul trouble, the 5-foot-7 guard drained a three-pointer from the corner with seven seconds left before the fourth and the shot clock running down.
“I didn’t even think about it,” Puzino said. “I knew the score was close, but I didn’t know there was under a minute. I just shot the ball. I was open and I took the shot.”
It hit nothing but net and in the huddle in-between quarters, Catalanotto drew up a play for Puzino to start things off. She took a feed at the top of the key and drilled another three-pointer to give Molloy a 36-30 lead with 7:47 remaining in the game.
“I knew she would stick another three,” Catalanotto said. “I knew it. I just had a feeling.”
Puzino wasn’t done either. She took a feed from Elizabeth “Gurt” Lynch less than a minute later and converted a layup on the baseline. Her eight-straight Molloy points put the Stanners ahead 38-31 with 7:28 to go.
“I personally appreciate her for stepping up to the plate,” Tatum said. “I don’t know who else could have done it, but she did it.”
Catalanotto credited Puzino for being instrumental late in the regular season, especially on defense, when Tatum was out with an ankle injury. He said games like Saturday’s for Puzino and the performance reserve forward Angela Contorno had Friday in the semis are vital for a championship-caliber team.
“When she hit those two threes, we thought now we have this in the bag,” Tatum said. “She brought our confidence back up. Anyone who was feeling down was back up. We were back in the game.”
Puzino could have been enjoying the 70-degree heat in Virginia this weekend. Instead, she was helping Molloy win its third Federation title in just the program’s 10th year of existence.
“I’m very glad,” Puzino said. “It was a great decision.”