By JOSEPH STASZEWSKI
ALBANY — The only thing that hit Carolyn Gallagher was a mob of teammates.
When the final horn sounded, the Archbishop Molloy players rushed each other, falling into one big pile at center court with the forward at the bottom as the bodies began to peel away. She called it painful, but in a good way.
Almost as good as her final performance of a stellar sophomore season.
Gallagher poured in 23 points, eight during an important third-quarter run, and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Stanners’ 53-48 win over Peekskill in the New York State Federation Class A girls’ basketball final Saturday afternoon at the Times Union Center. It is Molloy’s third Federation crown and first since it won consecutive titles in 2003 and 2004 as a Class C and A squad.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” said Gallagher, a double-double machine this season. “I’m just glad that we finished the season with a big win and that we are going home to Molloy with a championship.”
That was not sure to happen with Molloy down 28-22 with 3:77 left in the third quarter before going on a game-changing 16-3 run that lasted into the fourth. Gallagher, who shot 11-of-15 from the free throw line, went off. She scored the next eight Stanners points, including a three-point play to tie the score at 30. Reserve guard Marissa Puzino connected on two treys and scored the next eight Stanners points to give Molloy (18-13) a 38-31 lead with 7:24 left in the game.
“I don’t know if Carolyn realizes how good she is,” said Stanners Coach Tom Catalanotto, who was an assistant for the school’s prior title teams. “She is only going to get better.”
In this game Gallagher, who was named the MVP and guard Alexa “Weazel” Dietrich epitomized Molloy’s resilient nature throughout the postseason. There were moments in the team’s CHSAA state final win against Nichols (Buffalo) and in a Federation semifinal win over Wings where the game could have gotten away. Instead, they took the punch and hit back.
“We were all like we need to pick this up,” Gallagher said. “We are going to win this championship and that’s that.”
Dietrich scored six points, dished out five assists and lifted her game when star guard Amani Tatum picked up her fourth foul early in the third quarter. Angela Contorno added eight points and Tatum had nine boards.
“When she comes out, I know I have to step my game up,” Dietrich said.
Asia Jackson led Peekskill (24-2) with 15 points and Tasia Nolan and Jazmin Garcia each had 14 points. Jackson buried three-pointers to pull the Lions within 42-41 and 47-44 late in the fourth quarter. A Jazmin Garcia layup cut the Molloy lead to 49-48 with just 25.3 ticks left, but Elizabeth “Gurt” Lynch quickly answered with a layup on the right side and Gallagher made two free throws with 11.9 seconds left to seal the win.
“This team was a special team,” Catalanotto said. “They get along very well and they like to win together.”
This group embraced the idea of winning a Class A title after losing to Bishop Ford in a CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Division I fourth-place tiebreaker and used it as a building block toward its young roster competing in the ‘AA’ in the future.
The players talked about how the victory left them hungry to get back to the Federation tournament at its highest classification. But none of that mattered in the pile of players at midcourt.
“It was probably one of the happiest moments of my life,” Dietrich said. “Doing this together for Molloy was great.”