Bethlehem girls face Amsterdam in class AA semifinals

Survive and advance.

That was the theme of the Bethlehem girls basketball team's 59-46 Section II, Class AA quarterfinal victory over Suburban Council rival Saratoga Springs Saturday in Amsterdam.

Despite three players fouling out in the physical contest, the Lady Eagles pulled out the victory by making their free throws and getting contributions from their bench.

Both teams played aggressive (defense), said Bethlehem coach Mark Nealon. "Saratoga played a zone, which we had trouble with in the first half but adjusted to in the second half."

Tied at 24 at halftime, Bethlehem gained a small advantage in the third quarter by switching to a zone defense from the full-court press it tried in the first half. Though it didn't curtail the number of fouls called against the Lady Eagles, it did take the Blue Streaks out of their offensive rhythm.

"That took them by surprise," said Nealon.

Bethlehem finished Saratoga off at the foul line, as Meg Olsen and Kristina Maksuti made clutch free throws. Olsen finished with 18 points, 14 coming from the charity stripe, while Maksuti added 12 off the bench.

"Christine Murphy (one of the three to foul out) got into foul trouble, which was a surprise. That doesn't usually happen," said Nealon. "But we had some players come off the bench and step up."

The Lady Eagles advance to Wednesday's semifinal at Hudson Valley Community College, where they will face undefeated Amsterdam, the state's No. 1 ranked class AA team.

"At this point and time, we're not fearing Amsterdam, but we respect them," said Nealon. "We're going to have to shoot better from the outside, and on the defensive end, we have to play smarter and know who our assignments are."

Bethlehem reached the quarterfinals with a 54-33 opening round victory over Queensbury last Wednesday at Bethlehem Central High School.

The Lady Eagles used their height to build an 18-2 first quarter lead on the Spartans and cruise to the 21-point win. Six-foot, one-inch center Alex McCullough scored 21 points to lead Bethlehem over Queensbury, which did not have a player over 5-9.

"We knew going in we had a size advantage over them," said Nealon. "In Sectional basketball, you take the advantages given to you, and you exploit them."

Jesse Pulitzer-Kennedy contributed to this story.""

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