Underdog Patriots hope to win state title at Albany tournament

By Joseph Staszewski

Francis Lewis Coach Steve Tsai hasn’t let his girls’ basketball team completely enjoy all it has accomplished this season just yet.

There are still games to be played and a state Federation title to compete for. He doesn’t want them to lose focus on what lies ahead. The Patriots aren’t happy with just a city championship.

“We can’t overdo it,” junior guard Chi La Bady said of the Patriots’ excitement at winning the PSAL crown. “We don’t want to be too happy and then be distracted by our city championship to the point where we are not trying to win the state.”

Francis Lewis (21-3) will bring its same underdog mentality to Albany this weekend that won it the school’s first PSAL Class AA girls’ basketball title since 1979. The Patriots weren’t expected to end Murry Bergtraum’s 15-year title reign in the semifinals and take down top-seed South Shore in the finals at the Barclays Center.

And Francis Lewis again isn’t favored to bring home another crown when it faces Long Island Lutheran at 5 p.m. Friday in the semifinals at the Times Union Center. If the Patriots win, the victor of a matchup between St. Anthony’s and Ossining would await them in Saturday’s final.

Lewis will try to bring home the school’s first ever Federation crown. It has flourished amid doubts.

“It feels good because we can hit them when they least expect it,” star sophomore guard Sierra Green said. “They never know what is going to happen. Bergtraum and South Shore thought it was going to be easy riding and it didn’t happen.”

It is this young group’s fearlessness that has gotten it this far. The Patriots’ lone senior is Taft School transfer Chelsea Robinson and her first game came in the opening round of the playoffs. Lewis didn’t blink while down 10 points to Bergtraum with 3:14 left in the game and fended off numerous South Shore runs in the final. The Patriots didn’t let the talk and controversy around Robinson’s transfer faze them either.

“I feel like we have confidence and that’s what makes us successful,” junior guard Robyn Francis said.

It’s been low-key at school since the Patriots brought home the city crown. The swimming team’s championship banner is easily visible in the school’s hallway when you walk in, not the basketball one the Patriots brought home. Green said an announcement was made in school the Monday after the title game and the players have received congratulations in the hallway.

“It’s just been straight business,” Green said.

The Patriots have scrimmaged all three of their potential semifinal and championship challengers and are a balanced group. Green, Bady, Francis, Robinson and Taliyah Brisco can all hurt opponents at different times.

When Tsai took over five year ago, he wanted to get the program to the point where it can compete with the top teams in the state. Now the Patriots have a shot at being the best.

“We have a chance to do something really special,” Tsai said.