THIELLS — Beacon senior Talah Hughes drove the lane hard, lowered her shoulder, barreled into North Rockland’s Naya Rivera and tossed up a layup, which banked off the backboard glass and tickled the twine. Then the whistle blew, as expected.
“Blocking,” the referee announced.
The basket was good and Beacon, in one single play, took every bit of momentum the Red Raiders had built up and pulled it out from under them.
Hughes sank the free throw, then sharpshooting senior Brooke Dennin buried her fifth 3-pointer soon after. The final minutes were merely a formality, as Beacon escaped the Rich Korn Holiday Tournament with a 69-54 win and the title.
“I would love to see a tape, because I think (the call) should have gone the other way,” said North Rockland coach Kevin Metcalf, whose team pulled to within five points with approximately three minutes remaining. “It seemed like that sort of reset the universe back to (Beacon’s) favor.”
Dennin finished with a game-high 24 points, while Hughes added 18 points and 12 rebounds.
The Red Raiders, who faced a 23-point deficit at one point, trailed 52-39 at the end of three quarters. They had already made some headway, closing the third quarter with a 14-4 run.
North Rockland junior Ciera Rivera (pictured right, 24) scored a team-high 21 points on her grandmother’s birthday. Her other grandmother’s birthday is Sunday. Both were in attendance.
“We all talked, we all stepped up, we all tried our best to come back — I mean, this is our tournament, we wanted to win,” Rivera said. “We always think there’s a shot. We always stay positive … when we’re down 20 or up 20. It was just unfortunate this game.”
North Rockland’s Olivia Burden, who finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals, played through a bloody mouth in the final minutes after she was tripped and landed on the court. She is not expected to miss any games.
Photo credit: Carcucha L. Meuse/The Journal News
Here’s my video recap of the game. I would suggest reading my postgame notes before viewing for a better background of the highlights.
Zacchio’s game notes: The first half of the game was all Beacon. I mean all Beacon. The Bulldogs were outplaying North Rockland in virtually every facet of the game, and the 15-point halftime lead looked like it would probably double by the final buzzer.
Dennin was sensational in the first half, dropping 16 points on four 3-pointers from all over the court. Hughes was equally spectacular, recording 11 points and six rebounds in a dominating down-low presence. Point guard Leandra Echi runs the floor very well for a sophomore. She was given a technical after arguing with the referee and gave a few other colorful reactions to foul calls. Still a terrific ball player; I’m sure the maturity will come with age. Like I said, she’s a sophomore; she’s got the game — that’s for sure.
As John Philipbar pointed out on Twitter, North Rockland had no answers for Beacon. If they pressed, Hughes killed them down low; if they went to a zone, Dennin shot the lights out of the place. Whatever adjustments were needed, North Rockland made them in the second half.
Beacon opened up on a run, building its lead to as many as 23 points before North Rockland began is surging comeback. The Red Raiders returned the favor on Beacon and began outplaying it in the second half of the third quarter, hitting clutch shots and playing hard-nose defense to bring it’s deficit to 13 entering the final quarter. North Rockland had all of the momentum in its favor and looked like it had every possibility of completing the incredible comeback.
Hughes’ layup and free throw all but ended the Red Raiders’ hope, with Dennin’s 3-pointer serving as the nail in the coffin. Running back from the shot, Echi and Dennin pointed at former North Rockland player Alex Bertolino, who was sitting in the front row, and kept saying, “That’s for you.”
Bertolino and Dennin got into a verbal exchange earlier in the game, when Bertolino was yelling at the referees for what she thought was a bad call. Dennin smirked at her, prompting Bertolino’s reaction, “What are you looking at?” followed by a chuckle from Dennin.
A elderly man, who I presumed was a Beacon fan based on his comments and cheering during the game, said that this is typical behavior of Echi, saying, “She always does this,” adding, “she scores a bunch,” but that she talks during the game.
Towards the end of the game, as you saw or will see in the video clip provided, Echi points to fans (not Bertolino, different fans) giving the, “This is for you,” gesture before her free throws in the final minute. I don’t recall everything the man said (nor did I see who he was), but do remember hearing from him something along the lines of, “That’s why you’re going to miss these.” It was an ugly display of sportsmanship, or lack thereof, on both ends.
I think the taunting was a culmination of multiple things, beginning with North Rockland fans displeased at some of the rough non-calls on Beacon. Players — not all, nor all the time — threw elbows on some possessions, which were often overlooked by the officials (one of whom, for your information had a son attend North Rockland). There were plenty of horrendous calls on both ends, but I think the blocking call on Hughes’ layup was by far the worst because it completely changed the outcome of the game.
What should’ve been a charge, would have given North Rockland the ball with about 1:30 left and a five-point, two-possession deficit. Instead, it turns into an eight-point, (barring two four-point plays) three-possession game. I’m not saying this because I went to North Rockland, I’m saying this because it was a blatant charge.
I was not recording from my phone to catch the play, otherwise it would have been included in the clip. However, I know at least one parent was filming the game, so if I can somehow re-watch the play, or even better, get a clip of it, I would love a second look.
In any case, I wish this game would’ve featured any other team in the section other than North Rockland so that there wasn’t even a thought of a bias towards one team. Had it been North Rockland in that situation, I would’ve said what most Beacon fans were thinking: “Wow, we got away with one there.”
Regardless of who you think is at fault, I think we can all agree that it was an aggressive, well-played, poorly-officiated game between two very talented teams. Anyone?
Beacon should be strong contenders for the Class A section title and will definitely will be a team to watch the rest of the way. North Rockland does not look like a section title-winning squad right now and I don’t know if it will be this year. Lourdes is very tough, and from what I hear, Ossining is just as good, if not better. Good news for the Red Raiders is that youth (no seniors) means they will be around for awhile.