Monday, March 3, 2014

Deep, Balanced Ossining Coasts To Section 1 Championship

Simply put, few teams want their road to the New York State Playoffs going through Ossining this March.

That's not words of a hype artist or a Hometown Homer trying to fire off warning shots to foes outside Section 1. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

It's the evidence collected from Ossining's thorough 76-49 Section 1/Class AA Championship victory over Mahopac at the Westchester County Center Sunday.

It was the fourth straight championship for Ossining, paced by 23 points, seven boards, and seven steals from Tournament MVP Jalay Knowles.

Knowles, a 1,000-point scorer and once the interior supplement to all-empowering scoring cyborg Saniya Chong, entered the title game with the identity of a banger.

The junior displayed an all-around scoring game, however, stretching Mahopac out with deep jumpers and a pair of 3-pointers. Knowles canned a long trey to thicken the lead to 50-29 with 2:45 remaining in the fourth quarter, ultimately the nail in the coffin.

While Ossining's lead was largely insurmountable for much of the second half, the Pride continued to apply swarming pressure and push the pedal to the floor. Even while nursing a 20+ point lead, the stingy defense and pursuit of loose balls and high-low attack never tailed off.

That might be the most immeasurable intangible of Dan Ricci's 2014 team: Heart.

As much as O can slay you from the perimeter or penetrate the teeth of defenses upfront, the collective effort to never take a play off is what makes them contagious. Now, Ossining will defend its 2013 state title.

The path begins on Tuesday at Mount St. Mary's College in Newburgh, as they face Section 9 champion Kingston in a NYS regional.

While Ossining's early lead was never threatened, Mahopac senior Mairead Hynes, another 1,000-point scorer and a four-year starter, was immense.

Hynes dropped 19 points, snared 23 rebounds, dealt out seven assists, and was a menace defensively. The forward handled the ball, set high screens, and crashed the boards with sustained relentlessness.  

As she did during the Indians' semifinal victory over Clarkstown South, she took charges. When Hynes arrived at the doorstep as a freshman, the Indians were a hungry young team on the bounce back from a putrid 0-18 campaign.

In four years, three different coaches harnessed Hynes' talent. One coach gave her a green light as a freshman, putting her post game and short jumper to use with the underclassmen.

Another coach gave her some ownership of the team. And Hynes' final coach, first-year boss Chuck Scozzafava, now wishes he had another year with her.

Ossining's power in numbers, however, was the overwhelming factor on Sunday.

Shadeen Samuels bucketed 16 points and tore down 10 rebounds. Ossining seized control early. Back-to-back Indians turnovers resulted in Madison Strippoli buckets, opening up a 15-4 cushion with 2:36 remaining in the first quarter.

A high-arching trey from Alicia Sanchez allowed Ossining to build a 16-point bulge. Hynes got loose for a putback, but Knowles answered with a straight-away 3-pointer to pump the lead up to 30-14.

Chong, an All-American and one of the most automatic buckets-in-clusters scorers on this side of Christ The King's Sierra Calhoun, is now a freshman at UCONN. She cemented her legacy at Ossining with a state championship last spring. 

The 5-foot-9 guard earned national visibility behind a 51-point eruption against Irvington, 46 points against St. Anthony, and another 46-point performance (33 second half points) against Christ The King.

Though the program lost luster with the departure of Chong and promising Andra Espinoza-Hunter, who emerged on the scene as a wowing eighth-grader (before transferring to Blair Academy in New Jersey), Sunday was indicative that the factory keeps churning out new prospects.

Say what you'd like about Dan Ricci, who would never shy away from hounding a ref (from the first play all the way to the final buzzer) or challenging an opposing coach.

The around-the-clock work, which intensifies with the Sea Breeze on the AAU circuit, ensures that the basketball never deflates at Ossining High.

That's the way both player and coach want it.

On Sunday at the County Center, there was no arguing that.