By Jeffrey McDaniel
Last Saturday afternoon, the Haldane girls basketball team squared off against Friends Academy in the regional final held at New Rochelle High School. A spot in the state tournament hung in the balance. In the regional semis, Haldane put a hurting on previously undefeated Tri-Valley, winning 53-27 and leaving the opposition in tears as the final seconds ticked away.
The Haldane girls have a solid, diverse lineup. They have a dependable ball handler and clutch shooter in Sam Lisikatos; a defensive stopper and shooter in her younger sister, Marissa Lisikatos; several bigs with good hands in Jess Harrison and all-star soccer goalie Cali Schweikhart; and energetic role players in Shauna Ricketts, and Hannah Monteleone. At the center of this well-balanced bunch is junior Allie Monteleone. She’s a multi-layered player, who can shoot from the outside, dribble past the first defender and hit a 10-foot pull-up jumper, and also drive to the hoop. She also passes well and plays tough D.
It was Allie Monteleone who took apart Tri-Valley in the second half with an onslaught of baskets, when Coach [Tyrone] Searight made a smart tactical decision and began posting her up against the zone, getting her closer looks, where she began doing serious damage, finishing with 27 points, singlehandedly equaling Tri-Valley’s entire offensive output.
Friends Academy must have read the press clippings and done their homework, because they came out in a box-and-one on Allie Monteleone, which made it hard for her to get open looks and score. It didn’t hurt that Friends had two talented girls almost 6 feet tall, guarding the paint, meaning that when Allie drove past her persistent defensive shadow, she was met with a second wave of D.
The Haldane faithful cheered rowdily with every bucket. What kept the Lady Devils in it in the first half was some tenacious D of their own, and also the other players stepped up and knocked down important shots. Cali Schweikhart was a warrior on the glass. Sam Lisikatos made big buckets on several occasions.
At halftime, Friends led 27-25. It was only a 2-point deficit, but somehow it felt like more. The crowd remained pumped, feeding energy to the team. “Shooters shoot, Allie,” one fan encouraged.
I don’t know what Coach Seabright said in the locker room, but Haldane turned up their defense another notch or two, paying extra attention to the two star players on Friends, limiting their touches. On offense, Haldane set more picks, which resulted in more open looks. And again other players stepped up. Schweikhart remained fierce on the glass, snatching rebounds and knocking down several clutch mid-range jumpers.
Sam Lisikatos hit a couple long-range shots and ran around the court like hustle personified, providing senior leadership. Sam’s sister, Marissa, made several big buckets. And Jess Harrison found herself on the perimeter and did her best Chris Bosch imitation, swishing a huge 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. And Allie persisted; she kept playing hard and shooting. At one point, she posted on the blocks and made a key bucket. When the score was 38-32, and the outcome still very much up in the air, Allie made the play of the game. Haldane missed an inside shot.
Friends got the rebound. Friends could have come down and cut the lead to three or four. But Allie double teamed the Friends player and stripped her and went in strong for a layup, extending the fourth quarter lead to 8. That was the proverbial nail in the coffin. The Haldane faithful cheered intensely, viscerally excited that the girls were vanquishing the same foe that had beaten the boys the night before.
“Better go and recruit some new players,” one fan yelled. It was a funny comment, and many of us laughed. But there was truth in that statement. Friends had three very good players, and if it was a game of three-on-three, they might have prevailed. But basketball requires five players on the court, and Haldane’s five played with more heart and determination and synchronicity. The final score was 46-38. A total team effort.
Haldane is going to the states next weekend in Troy. If you’ve never been to a high school basketball game, I encourage you to go. I promise that trekking the two hours up 87 will connect you to your community in ways you never imagined.
The Lady Devils play Chautauqua Lake at 12:30 p.m. at Hudson Valley Community College on Saturday. Tickets are 10 bucks. If they win, they play for the Class C State Championship the next day at 1:45 p.m. Let’s hope they ride up their like Odysseus and come back with some hardware. OK, scratch the Trojan War comparison; this will be over in two days, not a decade. Anyway, just get your game face on. The girls can do this.