Garnets earn gold ball, best Ursuline
After back-to-back ousters in the Class A semifinals the last two years, Rye’s third consecutive trip to the Westchester County Center proved a charm, as the Garnets finally hoisted the gold ball after riding a strong second half against Ursuline to a 63-47 win and a section title.
For the Garnets, the reward was well worth the wait.
“This is amazing,” senior captain Madeline Eck said following the Feb. 28 win. “We hadn’t won a game in the playoffs here at the County Center, so to come out this year and win two games and the section championship, it’s really great.”
After advancing to the finals with a 37-31 win over Pearl River on Feb. 25, the Garnets found themselves in a championship dogfight with Ursuline through two quarters, as the teams headed into halftime tied at 23. But the Garnets were able to turn the tide in the third quarter, outscoring the Koalas 25-4, thanks in part to a 13-point explosion from junior Katie Popp. The outburst helped to put the game effectively out of reach.
“I think we were just able to get rid of some of our nerves,” said Popp, who scored her 1,000th career point on a foul shot in the fourth quarter. “This is a determined team and the hardest working group of girls I’ve ever played with, and that made the difference tonight.”
Popp finished with 27 points and was named the Class A tournament MVP, while Eck contributed 14 points, 11 rebounds and four assists en route to being named to the All-Tournament team. According to the two Rye standouts, getting the chance to shine on Section I’s biggest stage was especially important, given the team’s history in big games.
“I think if we hadn’t had those failures, if we hadn’t had the experience of playing on this court, I don’t know if we’d be as prepared as we were today,” Eck said. “We executed brilliantly and we were really firing on all fronts.”
Rye coach Dennis Hurlie also believed that Rye’s familiarity with postseason play showed up in the final score.
“Just playing this late in the season, understanding how to practice at this point in the year and knowing what it takes to win on this floor, that all helped,” he said. “These last two years, we totally expected to win both games here, too.”
Rye will be back at the County Center on March 1, after press time, when they take on Section IX champion Saugerties in the Class A Regional Semifinals. For the Garnets, the chance to continue playing is just as sweet as raising a championship banner.
“This is fun, I love coaching these kids, and the best thing is, we don’t have to stop,” Hurlie said. “We’ll practice…get ready for our next game, and this is going to be something these kids have forever.”