TROY It’s only fitting that the best player in school history lead Ossining on a remarkable campaign that now includes its first basketball state title.
In a 86-69 win over Section 5’s Gates Chili, Ossining (22-4) captured the first basketball state championship in school history behind 34 points, six assists and four steals from UConn-bound Saniya Chong.
“We came out here, we had determination and we came and got it,” Chong said.
The Pride have an automatic bye into the Federation Tournament final and will face the winner of PSAL champion Murry Bergtraum and CHSAA champion Bishop Ford March 23 at 6:45 p.m. at Albany’s Times Union Center.
That game is Chong’s final chance to add to her point total, which sits at 2,962 and places her fourth on the state’s all-time girls basketball scoring list.
Chong entered the game 25 points behind Caryn Schoff’s state single season scoring record of 892 points and broke it on a drive that left a defender on the floor from a wicked stutter step in the third quarter.
This week, Chong was named the Gatorade New York State Player of the Year and will play in the WBCA All-America game April 6 in New Orleans.
“(Saniya) is the best, she’s not a cocky kid,” Ossining coach Dan Ricci said. “She just brushes it off. It’s not about her, it’s about the team.”
Giving a glimpse into the post-Chong era, contributions from the Pride’s underclass were needed early on when freshman forward Shadeen Samuels picked three fouls in the first quarter.
As Samuels sat, Sophomores Abby Squirrell and Madison Strippoli were brought on for frontcourt relief in the first half.
“It’s not the amount of time that you get in,” Strippoli said. “It’s the moment, the second that you get in, that’s the chance to show your (skill).”
On its first three possessions of its 28-point second quarter, Alex Cristello and Andra Espinoza-Hunter 3-pointers sandwiched a magnificent defensive play where sophomore center Jalay Knowles stripped the ball above the key and raced the length of the floor for a layup.
Knowles and Espinoza-Hunter, an eighth grader, finished with 14 points apiece.
“We’re never going to be this good again because you lose the best player around,” Ricci said. “We’re still going to really good and our goal is to be back here next year.”
A year after losing in the Class AA semifinals, Ossining edged a stout Sachem East Friday and blitzing Gates Chili with a 8-0 run to open the game.
Photo credit/John Meore – The Journal News