Velandia leads rally over Sacred Heart

By Joe Pantorno

Sophomore Saarah Velandia had already done the hard part by sparking a St. Francis Prep comeback. Still, she was nervous as she stepped to the free throw line before making one of two to seal her team’s basketball season opening win.

“I couldn’t keep my cool at the line,” she said. “I tried my best, but I couldn’t. I’m just glad I made one.”

Velandia scored six points in the game’s final minute to lead St. Francis Prep to a 52-49 come-from-behind win over Sacred Heart (L.I.) at the St. Dominic Holiday Classic in Oyster Bay Saturday night. Velandia doubled her points total and finished with 12 points on the night.

“We just had hope the whole time,” Velandia said. “We knew we were going to win this.”

The Terriers, who were down seven points with four minutes left to play, trailed just 49-46. Velandia started the spurt by knocking down a three-pointer from the right elbow to tie the score. She followed that up by hitting a 15-foot jumper with 22 seconds left to give St. Francis Prep (1-0) its first lead of the game after a steal from Veronica Ganzi and an offensive rebound from freshman Sofia Recupero.

“Everyone was coming towards me and I was just filled with joy,” Valendia said. “I just knew we had it then.”

It didn’t look that way early. Sacred Heart flew out of the gates, taking a 15-0 lead four minutes into the game and was up 21-7 after the opening eight minutes. St. Francis then began to chip away slowly but surely, really making a move with a 17-10 third quarter. Down seven with four minutes left in the fourth, the play of Ganzi, who recorded 14 points on the night and a key three-pointer from Recupero made the comeback possible.

“We’re young, and for us to come back from seven in the fourth quarter, they never thought they were out of the game,” said assistant Coach Kevin Wagner. “It showed a lot of character.”

St. Francis had to overcome the hot shooting of Sacred Heart, which hit seven three-pointers on the night, six of them coming from Ashleigh Orr, who recorded a game-high 22 points. Wagner called it a character win to start the season. St. Francis Prep expects an improved season after winning just two games last year. The win meant a lot to the players.

“We were just ecstatic in the locker room,” Velandia said. “It’s like we hadn’t won in, like, five years or something.”

More from Around New York