Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rams Sweeter Than Carmel Against OLOL, Tall Order Awaits

Brittany Horne abused Our Lady of Lourdes all night, bulldozing her way to a game-high 20 points and 15 rebounds, as the smooth and sinewy forward was virtually uncontainable on the blocks.

Yet it was Carmel's Sabrina Diaz and Marie Mullen who ended up having the cool, calm composure for the clutch.

Mullen drained a titanic three-pointer from the left corner with 54 seconds remaining, shattering a 48-all deadlock.

Diaz knocked back two clutch free throws in the waning seconds, helping lift the No. 2 Rams to a pulsating 55-50 victory over No.7 Our Lady of Lourdes in the Section I/Class AA quarterfinals at Carmel High School Wednesday.

Next stop: County Center.

"We wanted it," said Horne, an inside-outside threat whose handle, glasswork, hyper-athleticism and superior post-up game has grabbed the attention of several Division-I programs. The junior will be sifting through a stockpile of NCAA letters and offers at by next fall, y'all watch.

"I can't even explain how good this feels right now," said an overwhelmed-with-joy Horne.

It sure felt good for an energetic, ebullient Carmel crowd with 11 ticks to play.

At that crucial juncture, Horne sent the Warriors' final shot attempt to the fifth row of the bleachers, spiking the orange sphere as if it were a volleyball.

Horne's eye-popping block nearly blew the roof off the gym, as the crowd erupted in chants of "county center!"

That swat, which could have certainly cracked the upper crust of a high school "Top Ten Plays" reel, put the finishing touches on as the 16-4 Rams closed out the jumpoff in dramatic fashion.

"We did our best," said Horne. "It was really a matter of getting rid of some of those early jitters."

Those jitters couldn't have been more evident in the first half, when the Rams were hesitant to shoot and put together a Mason's convention.

There was a lid on the basket.

It was beginning to look more like a Carmel Carnival Rim. Call it the Six Flags Shootout.

The Rams appeared as if they couldn't toss a pebble into the ocean. The bricks buildup and a stockpile of turnovers put them in an early 13-point hole, as an upstart Lourdes team reeled off an 11-2 run.

That's when the Rams predicated their offense on whizzing passes to Horne in the post. Carmel rapidly ditched the fallaway jumpers and set shots, driving the lane and leaking out in transition instead.

Horne threaded through a host of Lourdes defenders and owned the backboards, as the Rams ran off a dominant 26-6 power surge spanning through the end of the second quarter to the first six minutes of the third. The Rams were efficient in the field of window cleaning, as they earned second chance opportunities and several extra looks due to their relentless rebounding and hustle.

Mullen, who scored 18 points (including a trio of treys), connected on a number of timely shots down the stretch. None was bigger than her aforementioned clutch three-pointer, as Carmel seized a 51-48 edge they refused to relinquish.

Diaz hadn't scored a lot of points, but the gymrat's clutch free throws essentially closed the door on the gritty Warriors, who were blasted by 29 points when the two teams met early in the season.

Is Diaz always money from the charity stripe?

"She is," said Horne, who fended off double-teams and often had 2-3 girls draping her in the driving lanes. "She's always there when we need her to be. She's the girl we go to (under pressure)."

On Wednesday night, Carmel clearly didn't crumble under that Ziplock-tight pressure.

Beyond Horne and Mullen, Kim Broccoli chipped in with 9 points. Nikki Oliver and Diaz each chipped in with four.

Teneka Whittaker, who torched John Jay for 32 points on Feb.13, had nine points on three treys from the parking lot.

Whittaker, who Rams coach Dan O'Hare warned his club about while asking them to make her work for her shots, drilled a three from the corner to knot it up at 44-all with four minutes remaining.

Whittaker's banker from NBA three-point land in the first half gave Lourdes, which has improved by leaps and bounds since Carmel throttled them to the tune of a 69-41 washout early on in the season, a 26-13 lead.

The Rams ripped off a momentum-encrusted 8-2 run to close out the first half, slicing Lourdes' lead to seven, 28-21.

Now the Rams head to the February showcase atmosphere at the White Plains County Center, where they will have the daunting task of No.3 Mount Vernon in the Section I/Class AA semifinal Thursday at 6:30.

Mount Vernon, a perennial powerhouse, defeated New Rochelle 68-49 in the quarterfinal. The Knights are red-hot, having won their last seven games by double-digits.