NY Girls Rally From 12 Down For 62-60 Win In 2023 Senior Classic

NY Girls Rally From 12 Down For 62-60 Win In 2023 Senior Classic

By: Sam Wilson | Olean Times Herald | March 27, 2023 | Photo courtesy Paul Burdick

PORTVILLE - Trailing by 12 points late in the first half, the New York girls appeared on their way back to the losing column in the Big 30 Basketball Senior Classic following a 64-35 win last March.

But that seemingly comfortable 34-22 Pennsy lead was short-lived as New York closed out the first half with two straight baskets, then scored 12 straight to start the second half, taking a 38-34 lead in the first five minutes. New York's charge set up a competitive second half but with the hosts - playing at Portville Central School - in control most of the way until holding on for a 62-60 victory.

New York led 59-50 with just over three minutes remaining before Otto-Eldred's Katie Sheeler nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to make it a one-score game. But New York never relinquished its lead, getting a layup from Cuba-Rushford's Taylor Searle with 1:50 remainingand a free throw from Houghton’s Jessica Prentice down the stretch.

After O-E's Bri Heller blocked a chance for Prentice to make it a four-point game with 20 seconds remaining, New York got a big rejection of its own as Searle blocked St. Marys' Izzy Catalone. A loose ball tie-up gave Pennsy one more chance on a jump ball, but a 3-point attempt fell short of the rim as New York held on at the buzzer.

Andover/Whitesville star Vanessa Hall led New York with 13 points while Olean's Leah Williams added 11 and seven rebounds. Franklinville's Megan Jackson had 10 points and four steals, while Kyra Pence (Randolph) and Prentice had eight points each, with Prentice grabbing 13 rebounds.

"I was like, 'uh oh,'" Pence said of Pennsy's first-half lead. "And then we came out at halftime, our goal was we needed to box out and we couldn't let one of their shooters shoot and we didn't let her shoot that much and we boxed out really hard, got offensive rebounds and we beat them in transition quite a bit."

New York coach Jean Bantelman, of Portville, credited the second-half turnaround to improved defense.

"I think we focused a little better on defense. Our defense started lacking a little bit, we lost our legs a little bit towards the end of the first half," Bantelman said. "I have a couple real studs and they stepped up big time. I talked to them at halftime: we've got to rebound a little better, we've got to play a little bit better defense, help defense, sagging off the ball a little bit."

Sheeler paced Pennsylvania with 19 points, making five 3-pointers, with nine rebounds. Catalone chipped in 13 points while Heller and Rebecca Martin (Northern Potter) had eight each. Heller and Emma Chambers grabbed 12 boards each.

"I knew the Otto-Eldred girls were going to be tough and they were," Bantelman added. "That combination was difficult because they've played together for so long but I just said we can't help off the big girl, we've got to stay with her. … But these girls, they're just a really nice group of girls. They stepped up and played some big-time basketball."

It was likely an adjustment for players to see the court just half of the time, trading off playing time every five minutes during two 20-minute halves. New York's squad drew 10 players from 10 different teams, whereas Pennsy had some continuity with four teammates from Otto-Eldred teaming up again.

"They just stepped up," Bantelman said. "They rebounded better. Leah from Olean was really tough on the boards and Pence was tough on the boards too. They just came together as a group and they had fun. We weren't expected to win, I don't think, so it's nice to come away with a win. But I told them it's about the day and having fun."

Pence said she enjoyed playing for a coach who emphasized playing hard and having fun, like Bantelman did. And she became one-day teammates with some former opponents.

"I love playing hard and I love having fun because I can do both. I think that was a great mindset (for) the game and I think that really helped us to play really hard," she said. "I played against some of them throughout the league at Randolph, but it was a great experience to come out and play with new people. I made some new friends and I was thankful for the Big 30 to ask me to come out and play with them."

Pennsy coach John Hepfer was former assistant coach at Otto-Eldred for the late Randy Stebbins, a 2023 Big 30 Basketball Hall of Fame honoree at the game. Hepfer said his team quickly came together to play like longtime teammates.

"A lot of them played against each other, some of them played in AAU together," he said. "So after about three minutes into the game, they actually started together like they'd done it all year.

"It was a great experience, and I think the girls enjoyed it too. It was one of those games that you're going to play hard, but you can relax at the same time."

Bantelman enjoyed the Big 30 experience even more with a personal connection to all three hall of fame honorees.

"Joelle (Connelly), her mom and I played against each other in high school. Joelle played with my daughter, against my daughter in college," she said. "And then Randy Stebbins was a very dear friend of mine. I ran the Stebbins Memorial, where they would give awards out, and his wife and I taught together for years, so I'm very close to them. And then Andy Moore, he played against my brothers in high school, watched them play at Bonas, and then his daughter played with my daughter, so I had a connection to all three of those honorees and they were all very deserving. It was very special for me to be here with those three being inducted."