By Jordan J. Michael
COHOES –– With its star player surrounded and held scoreless, Berne-Knox-Westerlo had to employ the rest of its talented players. The Bulldogs were willing and able to step up against Maple Hill, coming back from 10 points down for a thrilling victory in Tuesday’s Class C semifinal.
The Cinderella ride continues for a team that had been considered a one-trick pony, having Section 2’s most dynamic scorer, Liz Harvey. After Tuesday, this is no longer the case.
BKW has always had an emphasis on teamwork. Maple Hill prevented Harvey from making baskets, but couldn’t find an answer for the other seven Bulldogs’ players.
“This proves that we can get it done, no matter what,” Head Coach Tom Galvin said after the 38-to-34 win at Cohoes. “It shuts up some of the critics that said we were just a one-person team. I’m very proud of this entire team.”
However, Galvin admitted that, if someone told him Harvey would score only two points in a BKW victory over Maple Hill, he might have thought they were a little crazy.
Despite the adverse situation, Makayla McCormick scored 15 points, Mary Salo had 10, and freshman Kathryn Salo scored eight points.
Plus, junior Delaney Martin made a game-changing three-pointer late in the third quarter that got the Bulldogs within three points of the lead. Right after that, McCormick stole the ball and made the ensuing lay-up to get BKW within one point.
“Everyone focuses on Liz, but we have other kids,” Galvin said. “One of my adages –– and I told Liz this all year –– I don’t care if the custodian walks into the gym and scores points. I just want to win. It doesn’t matter how we win.”
From the beginning of the game, Harvey was smothered by double- and triple-team defense. She had no room to shoot, and some rough contact from the Wildcats’ players went uncalled. After a while, Harvey’s aggravation turned into laughter on the court.
“Every time I got the ball, three girls came at me,” said Harvey. Her two points, which came on free throws with two seconds left in regulation play on Tuesday, was the lowest she’s ever scored since her first varsity game over four years ago. “It’s really frustrating for me,” she said. “I want to do everything I can to help my team, and, when I can’t score, I get frustrated with myself.”
With 50 seconds remaining, and BKW ahead, 36 to 34, McCormick sailed an inbound pass from the baseline to a cutting Harvey, who got fouled on the way to the basket. Harvey missed both free throws, and fouled a Maple Hill player on the following rebound. On the way back down the court, McCormick pulled Harvey close, giving her some empathic words of wisdom.
“I told her to keep her head up,” McCormick said of the exchange. “She’s the best player on the floor, clearly, so, just because she’s getting shut down, doesn’t mean she’s not good. I just wanted to make sure her head was up.”
Harvey said that it was the best confidence booster she could ever ask for. “Makayla just wanted me to stay with it,” she said. “It’s those positive things that any great teammate and captain would say.”
As a fierce competitor, Harvey puts loads on her back, Galvin said. “She felt like she was letting me and the team down,” he said. “But, that’s not it. Eight kids stuck together and got it done.”
“Our teamwork is awesome”
Maple Hill Head Coach Mark Bubniak said that his idea was to hold Harvey and Mary Salo to 18 combined points in the game. The BKW duo scored only 12. The Wildcats had beaten the Bulldogs, 47 to 43, on Dec. 28, and Salo and Harvey scored most of BKW’s points in that previous contest.
“We started off strong, and our defense was working tremendously,” Bubniak said on Tuesday. Maple Hill led, 12 to 2, in the first quarter. “The difference for them was their other players,” he said. “We may have had some inexperience on our end.”
BKW couldn’t get any flow going in the first quarter, but it ended on a surprising note. McCormick made a three-pointer while being fouled, and she made the free throw to keep the Bulldogs within striking distance. At the outset of the second quarter, Salo blocked a shot, and then her little sister, Kathryn, made two baskets.
“Our teamwork is awesome, and our chemistry is awesome, too,” McCormick said. “Everyone gets along, and there’s no cattiness like there usually is on a team. As long as we communicate, we can get what we want. It just takes some motivation.”
Mary Salo, at 6 feet, 2 inches, blocked another shot in the second quarter. Maple Hill led, 20 to 13, at halftime.
“We’ve been playing really well in the second half lately,” said Salo, who is a vast presence under the basket. “Everyone stepped up and contributed. It was really exciting to come back in such a close game. It was a lot of pressure.”
The crowd reached roaring levels at times. After McCormick gave BKW a 36-to-34 lead with a speedy lay-up, a thunderous “B-K-W!” chant rocked the Cohoes gymnasium.
“There’s a lot of emotion involved in this,” Galvin said. “We’re very happy to be in the finals. It’s very important to us.”
“Flip of a switch”
McCormick said that the game changed for the better when Martin hit her three-pointer to get BKW closer. “We started hitting more shots after that,” she said. “It was like a flip of a switch. Anyone can make the game turn.”
A three-pointer was sunk by McCormick at the beginning of the fourth quarter for BKW’s first lead, and then Salo made a basket after a nice fake to put the Bulldogs ahead by four points. McCormick made another three-pointer minutes later, but Maple Hill tied the game at 30 to 30.
“We talked about being more patient on offense, and not forcing it,” Galvin said of his feelings at halftime. “I didn’t want Liz to force it, either, so I just told everyone to hit their shots, and they did. It was a big spot.”
Maple Hill lives or dies with outside shooting, and it died on Tuesday, Bubniak said. Also, the Wildcats had costly turnovers down the stretch.
The Wildcats had two chances to tie the game. Anna Despart dribbled the ball out of bounds, and then Sabrina Wolfe traveled.
“We had chances to extend our lead in the third quarter, but we didn’t convert,” Bubniak said. “It kept BKW in the game, and, ultimately, came back to bite us.”
In a close contest, situations can spiral out of control. “Before you know it,” said Bubniak, “it’s the end.”
BKW and Maple Hill were both 19-1 entering Tuesday’s game. The Wildcats were the higher seed. The Bulldogs play defending Class C state champion Hoosic Valley on Saturday at noon at Hudson Valley Community College.
“Well, we are really over excited because we haven’t made it to the finals in a while,” said McCormick. “It’s a little overwhelming.”
The Bulldogs made it to the Class C finals in 2010, when Liz Harvey and Mary Salo were freshman. Greenwich blew out BKW. Harvey said that her team has been practicing hard for four months, six days a week, to prepare for this moment.
“I’m so proud of my team,” Harvey said. “We do so much together and we work so well together.”
BKW’s winning such a huge game without scoring from Harvey will make Bubniak and Maple Hill scratch their heads, but BKW refused to lose. It’s just another gripping page in this storybook season.
“It makes me and everybody else upset because we have a really talented team,” Salo said of the focus that always goes to Harvey. “No offense, but it’s not all about Liz, and she knows that, too. You have to guard all of us.”