Saints advance to semifinals

Players on the North Country Community College women’s basketball team celebrate their come-from-behind Region III quarterfinal playoff victory at home on Tuesday against Hudson Valley. The Saints erased a late nine-point deficit to claim a 65-60 win. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — The North Country Community College women’s basketball team is moving deeper into the playoffs after posting a 65-60 quarterfinal victory over Hudson Valley on Tuesday.

Heading into the game, it would have been tough to bet against the North Country women, who are the Region III tournament’s second seed. They were fresh off winning their first Mountain Valley Collegiate College title, they were competing in a playoff game at home for the first time in the history of their program, and they had already swept two regular-season matchups by double digits against Hudson Valley in games played earlier this month.

But knocking off the Hawks was anything but easy. The Saints trailed by nine points in the closing minutes of the game, and rallied by mounting a 16-2 run down the stretch to advance into Saturday’s semifinal round, where they will play Columbia-Greene on Saturday at Finger Lakes Community College.

The Saints faced their biggest deficit of the game at 58-49, and then went on a 16-2 run — which included scoring the last 13 points of the contest — to keep their season going. In the end, defense, making some big shots and experience all helped propel NCCC into the Region III final four.

“I thought we really rallied together there at the end. The girls stuck together,” Saints head coach Jerrad Dumont said. “We’ve worn teams out and wore teams out all year long and the last three minutes, you could tell that they were tired and we were still roaring and ready to go. We also hit three 3s down the stretch. The good shots that we usually get throughout a game, we didn’t knock them down tonight, but we got them late.

Kiara Sweeney of North Country looks up at the basket while Asali Valentine defends for Hudson Valley during Tuesday’s game. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“Our defense at the end was very, very good. Got to win the ones at home. Especially in the playoffs. You get a home game, you have to win it. I told the girls they were giving me gray hair. I don’t know. I’m not that old to be getting gray hair. We’re down by nine with three and a half to go, and to come back and win by five is pretty nice. I didn’t think that we shot well, I think we made some serious mistakes defensively, but I can tell you that team we played right there is going to be really good next year.”

NCCC clung to a 29-28 halftime lead, and were then on top 45-43 entering the fourth quarter in a contest that was close from start to finish. The Hawks then went on a tear to open the final period, and Taylor Engster led the way. The freshman forward single-handedly led the way, draining five field goals to fuel a 10-1 run to put Hudson Valley on top 53-46 with 5:30 remaining.

The teams then traded 3-pointers, with Dermericka Mosely knocking one down for the Saints and Hannah Kreiger answering for the Hawks. Engster then drained her sixth field goal and 12th point of the quarter with 3:45 on the clock to give the Hawks their largest lead, nine points, and Danielle Cook responded with a 3-pointer for the Saints to make it a 58-52 score. Kali Szczepanski, Hudson Valley’s only freshman, then hit a layup to push the Hawks back up by eight points. But from there, the rest of the evening belonged to the Saints, who got a pair of 3-pointers from Mosely and Ty Taylor, three field goals inside the paint from forward Jasmine Perea and one successful foul shot from Taylor to close out the scoring.

Taylor’s second 3-pointer of the game came with 1:56 left on the clock and pulled the Saints even at 60-60, and Perea then put NCCC ahead to stay on the next basket, a layup with 55 seconds remaining. Perea, a freshman from Seward, Alaska, then sealed the deal when she collected a rebound off a missed foul shot by Taylor and banked in the put-back shot with 15 seconds left on the clock to make it a 65-60 final.

All 10 Saints who saw the floor scored points in the win. Kiara Sweeney led the way with 13 points, including 11 in the first half. Cook followed with 12 points, with nine of those coming on a trio of 3-pointers, and Perea finished with 10 points.

North Country freshman Danielle Cook attempts to dribble past Kali Szczepanski of Hudson Valley during the first half of Tuesday’s game. Cook scored a dozen points in the Saints victory. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

The Hawks, who finished with an 18-10 record overall, were led by Kreiger’s game-high 21 points, and Engster followed with 20 points.

Despite the loss, Hudson Valley head coach Robert Coleman was pleased with the effort turned in by his young team, which features a roster of one sophomore and the rest freshman who helped bring the Hawks back from a 4-20 record a season ago.

“I’m really really proud of the way we played,” Coleman said. “I just told them in the locker room that was the hardest they’ve played all season. I wish I had said to them that they could bottle that and remember how hard they played, and remember this feeling for next year because it’s only going to make us better.

“They were all freshman but one out there,” Coleman continued. “They didn’t know what this was. – the whole season, making it to regionals, they had no idea. Now they understand. It’s an experience. It’s an experience they’re never going to forget and they can make it into a positive. We just played a very talented team. They’re probably the deepest team definitely in our conference, probably in the region. The name of the game is experience. They have some freshman too, I think they’re just more experienced and more refined than we were.”

The Saints improved to 24-4 with the win and will now face No. 3 seed Columbia-Greene in a semifinal game with the tournament’s top seed and host, Finger Lakes, taking on Onondaga in the other semifinal matchup.

Perea said when the Saints play together, they are tough to beat.

“Honestly, whenever we play like a team, no one can stop us,” Perea said. “We just play like a team and don’t give up on each other. Sometimes we let our frustrations get to us, but we always come out strong after the third quarter. If something bad happens, we don’t get down. We keep pushing, move on to the next play. Everybody has a role, and if everybody plays their role, we can make it anywhere. It was tighter than we wanted it to be, but we won, we’re moving on, and that’s all that matters.”

North Country CC 65, Hudson Valley 60

North Country (65)

Rust 1-0-3, Taylor 2-1-7, McCrae 0-3-3, Mosely 2-0-6, Cook 4-1-12, Smith 1-1-3, Cruse 2-0-4, Gauthier 1-1-4, Sweeney 5-3-13, Perea 5-0-10. Totals: 23-10-65.

Hudson Valley (60)

Szczepanski 3-1-7, Valentine 2-0-4, Kreiger 8-1-21, Wright 2-0-4, Engster 9-1-20, Henderson 0-0-0, Hones 2-0-4. 26-3-60.

Halftime: NCCC 29, Hudson Valley 28


Cayuga 96, North Country 91

The North Country Community College men’s basketball team saw its season come to an end Tuesday with a 96-91 setback at Cayuga CC in a Region III quarterfinal game on the road.

The Saints ended their season with a 21-8 overall record.