It was an all-around “Murphy’s Law” day for me on Saturday.
First, I thought my notebook was in my car (it wasn’t). Then, I got to Blind Brook — thinking the game was at noon (it wasn’t). The school’s television monitor said 2 p.m., then coach Manny Martinez tweeted me saying it was at 4 p.m. I decided to take a trip to Woodlands to catch the end of the Port Chester-Fox Lane game — heard the final buzzer go off as I was running to the gym. My battery life went from 80 percent to 13 percent while there, then at Blind Brook (again), my phone died right before the biggest plays of the game. So to the Briarcliff fans I spoke with after the game, I swear I’m not usually that frazzled. Everyone has an off day now and then. Luckily, I did catch the Briarcliff-Blind Brook game. Here’s my overall takeaway from it:
RYE BROOK — Much like myself, I think Blind Brook just had a lot of bad luck on Saturday.
The first quarter was pretty even both ways; Blind Brook was getting some decent looks and shots off, it’s just that nothing was falling. I also think the referees helped out Briarcliff a little bit by missing a few traveling calls that led to about six or eight Bears points in the first half.
Once Blind Brook got in gear, it really got rolling.
The Trojans ran a pretty effective 2-3 zone on defense, but had some trouble rebounding most of the game. Briarcliff seemed like the more aggressive team on the boards and really fought for every loose ball or 50-50 rebound. Blind Brook’s offense is very balanced; senior point guard Olivia Brettschneider has really elevated her game since the big three — Ally Silfen, Jackie Lavitt and Lea Saliba — left for college. The pint-sized guard is extremely aggressive on offense — unafraid to take on defenders with a significant height advantage. Brettschneider hit a couple of big shots that boosted Blind Brook’s momentum; I think at one point, the Trojans led by 11 in the third quarter.
Sabrina Benowich, Rheanna Maitland and Sarah Nuckel are all excellent additions to the team — each contributed about eight points on Saturday. Benowich had a couple of 3-pointers that circled and rimmed out, and Maitland and Nuckel had some nice scores in the paint.
Still, give credit to Briarcliff. The Bears were a relentless bunch who came up with some big plays when they needed them. Freshman Carly Fanelli is a star in the making; another name to remember in the Class of 2017. It seems like were going to have an exceptional bunch of talent in those 2017, 2018, 2019 years.
The 3-pointer was huge at the end — enormous. The Bears needed it to stay alive, and Fanelli delivered. Bears coach Don Hamlin (which, by the way I realized has a typo in his name in Sunday’s paper; couldn’t fix it before print) must have a lot of trust in Fanelli to let a freshman take that shot.
Then again, it’s not like Briarcliff has a senior to take it. The Bears have two juniors, three sophomores and five freshman, according to Hamlin, so expect to hear a lot about Briarcliff in the years to come.
In any case, Fanelli had the hot hand (already had scored nine points in the quarter) and was the obvious choice to take the shot. As impressive and clutch as the 3-pointer was, it didn’t impress me nearly as much as the free throws she made did. It’s one thing to take a shot, knowing you need it just to tie the game, as opposed to taking a shot that will put your team in terrific position to win the game.
Fanelli — after grabbing the rebound and getting fouled, I might add — stepped to the line with 8.6 seconds left and knocked down both without missing a beat. Several Briarcliff fans said after the game that Fanelli has a history of clutch performances and that they had no doubt she would make the big free throws.
Hamlin said after the game that as talented as Fanelli is, she sometimes has low confidence, which he couldn’t seem to grasp (neither can I). Fanelli said that with the score tied, it relaxed her a little bit, as opposed to trailing and having to make at least one of the shots to keep the team’s hopes up.
Briarcliff seems to rely on Fanelli more than Blind Brook relies on any one of its players, but the Bears still have plenty of weapons who can contribute — Jackie Contento, Kelsey Simpson, Grace Orr — Fanelli just appears to be the go-to girl. The Trojans should have won this game. You can’t shoot 5-for-20 in a close game and win. The teams who tend to succeed with regularity are usually the ones who win the close games and hit the big shots. That team was Briarcliff on Saturday.
The Trojans, who finished the season 6-12, lost five of their games by five or less points, so imagine how easily they could’ve been an 11-7 or .500 team. When people say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” think Blind Brook. This is a team that can very well make the County Center again, but come playoff time, the Trojans will have to hit those big shots.
With coach Manny Martinez calling the shots, the Trojans will at least have the benefit of knowing their coach can lead them to a deep playoff run. Blind Brook has made the County Center in 10 of his 13 years at the helm.
According to MSG Varsity’s seeding projections, all of the Class B teams (who will qualify for the tournament) have completed their 18-game schedules. With 12 teams projected to advance, the top four teams — Irvington, Westlake, Briarcliff and Dobbs Ferry — will receive byes, based on those projections. Blind Brook is currently projected to grab the No. 11 seed, but will likely go up after Horace Greeley’s game on Monday. If its holds true at No. 11, it would put it against the No. 6 seed, which would be Valhalla or North Salem. I would have the Trojans beating either team. In that case, it would set up a quarterfinal rematch between Briarcliff-Blind Brook, and that’d be a really fun game to watch.
Both teams packed the stands with fans; one of the better crowds I’ve seen at a girls basketball game this year. I even chatted with Blind Brook principal Pat Lambert for a little bit during the game. She’s very supportive of her school and said she loves going to Blind Brook games — especially basketball.