By Laura Amato
Danielle Patterson imagined what this moment would fell like all season. As it turned out, actually living it was even better.
The Mary Louis Academy senior standout couldn’t wipe the smile off her face after the buzzer went off Saturday night as the Hilltoppers defeated Monsignor Scanlan 66-55 in overtime of the CHSAA “AA” championship at Fordham University.
It was the first-ever “AA” title in school history and the first state championship for the team since it clinched an “A” title in 2007.
“It’s everything and more, just seeing it happen,” said Patterson, who finished with a game-high 28 points and 13 rebounds. “I’m speechless. We talked about it all season and now to see it happening, it’s just like, wow.”
The two teams – who were playing for the third time in the last three weeks, including the second time this month – battled back and forth for much of regulation, exchanging baskets and struggling to grab any sort of consistent momentum.
Scanlan did its best to slow down the Hilltoppers with a 2-3 zone defense, but Mary Louis weaved its way through the open spots on the floor. The Hilltoppers, meanwhile, focused their game plan on their own defensive looks, determined to slow down Scanlan’s outside shooting threats.
“We allowed them to have their way with us in the first half and we clamped down, settled down,” guard Jordan Nixon said. “We knew the offense would come and that second half showed that.”
Kania Pollock gave Mary Louis a four-point lead with 1:49 left in regulation, but the Crusaders answered in kind as sophomore forward Kaylen Banwareesingh scored the final two baskets – including the game-tying bucket with 8.1 seconds left on the clock.
It was a frustrating end to regulation, but the Hilltoppers refused to lose focus in OT. In fact, the extra time was just another challenge and, this season, Mary Louis has answered every challenged its faced.
“They’re just a special group,” Hilltoppers coach JoAnn Arbitello-Pinnock said. “They’re determined to do well, so when times get tough they just come together and play. We’ve had a few games now where we’ve finished games and I think all those games early in the season when we were tested, definitely paid off.”
Scanlan and Mary Louis exchanged baskets and free throws for the first 2 1/2 minutes of overtime, but Patterson gave the Hilltoppers a lead they’d never again surrender with 2:23 on the clock, hitting a pair from the line.
“Coach told us we’d been in that situation before,” said Patterson of the squad’s OT approach. “She just told us to keep our heads in it and not get distracted by all the hype and whatnot, just stay within the game.”
Patterson followed up by drawing a charge on the ensuing Scanlan possession and Mary Louis wrapped up the game by going 11-of-12 from the line – including seven points from Nixon.
“I wanted to take over,” said Nixon, who racked up 21 points and 12 rebounds. “ That’s what it is and it didn’t have to be scoring. Being aggressive, remain a threat, get a rebound, get your teammates involved. It’s whatever I have to do, do it all.”
Mary Louis advances to the NYS Federation Tournament in Glens Falls later this month, looking to notch another championship. It’s a brand-new challenge, but, as far as the Hilltoppers are concerned, nothing is going to change.
“It’s just another game,” Arbitello-Pinnock said. “It’s just the next game on the schedule.”