Shen rallies past Bethlehem in class AA finals

Saturday's Section II, Class AA girls basketball final was hardly beautiful, but Shenendehowa will take the result.

The Plainsmen scored the last 10 points of the game to defeat Bethlehem 36-29 for the Sectional title at Hudson Valley Community College.

Both groups, I thought, left everything on the floor, said Shen coach Ken Strube. "Both teams were awful on offense both teams played phenomenal defense."

"We didn't want to run with Shen because we knew they were deep and athletic, so we were in a zone defense," said Bethlehem coach Mark Nealon. "I thought (playing) zone actually hurt us because it limited our aggressiveness."

Indeed, the same aggressiveness that propelled Bethlehem to a 51-45 semifinal victory over previously unbeaten Amsterdam four days earlier was eerily absent in Saturday's final. The Lady Eagles settled for outside shots far more frequently than they drove to the basket like they did against the Running Rams.

Still, Bethlehem traded blows with Shen and built a 29-26 lead early in the fourth quarter before the Plainsmen shut the Lady Eagles down with a stifling full-court press that forced several turnovers. Shen especially focused on Bethlehem's Alex McCullough, who scored 12 first-half points. The Plainsmen contested McCullough's shots, which limited her to two second-half points.

"We picked up our defense in the second half and tried to keep a hand in her face for the entire game," said Shen guard Carey Turner.

"McCullough did a great job in the first half," added Strube.

Meanwhile, Shen's offense did just enough to take the lead. Turner's lone basket of the fourth quarter put the Plainsmen ahead 31-29 midway through the period. Barb Shea contributed a field goal, and Kim Woodward hit two clutch free throws to seal the victory.

"This group of kids, in particular the seniors, they're phenomenal," said Strube. "They huddled up a few times and said to each other, 'We are not going home without a win.'"

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