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Floral Park Edges North Shore, 48-44|
Alex Baldini was forced to the bench permanently with her fifth foul with 57.3 left to play, but her work was done. Thirty three seconds earlier, Floral Park's senior forward hit the final in a series of shots that helped put away Nassau County's Class A defending champs, North Shore, 48-44, in the semi-finals.
"When the options come, they come," said Baldini, whose team high 12 points led the Lady Knights. "Our team chemistry has been phenomenal this year."
That team chemistry was what it took to overcome a resilient North Shore Lady Vikings squad, a team that bumped Floral Park out of the title hunt on the same floor in the same round of the playoffs last year. With North Shore's smothering defensive pressure and constant double and triple teaming of Lady Knights sophomore center, Lorraine Hickman, someone would always be open. And more often than not, that someone was Baldini.
"We knew this would happen," said an ecstatic and in tears Hickman, who finished with 11 points but was held to two field goals. "We said coming into this game that everyone had to be prepared to shoot."
When it wasn't Baldini, it was junior floor general Valerie Fox (8 points) or her backcourt mate, sophomore Jeanna Orfanos (7 points). But trust in one's teammates is crucial in games like these, and North Shore didn't make it easy. A close game early on, Floral Park held an 11-10 advantage after eight minutes. But their engine didn't begin to percolate until the second quarter, when they switched their game plan and in turn, sparked a pivotal 14-0 run.
"I think the biggest thing for us was switching from our 2-3 zone [defense] to man to man," said Floral Park Head Coach Michael Spina. "And [offensively], we had to spread the court and look diagonally to find the open player."
The Lady Knights responded to a great pressure defense from North Shore when they found uncontested shots under the hoop. The result was three consecutive back door baskets courtesy of Baldini and Orfanos. Conversely, the Lady Vikings went flat and struggled from the field. And although both teams found themselves in the bonus by mid-second quarter, North Shore shot 2-6 to Floral Park's 7-8, and consequently found themselves in a 27-15 hole at the half. But defending champs don't just go away in big games.
The Lady Vikings' defense stymied Floral Park in the third quarter and the turnovers mounted. Additionally, Floral Park failed to net a field goal, and North Shore's Erin Sheerin (13 points) and Tara Feehan (9 points) began to pull their team back in it. Feehan made the most noise in the third quarter, nailing a pair of treys from the top of the key, the second pulling North Shore within three, 33-30, by quarter's end. Sheerin picked up the slack with valiant senior play, scoring nine points in the final stanza and converting on an old school three point play to make it 47-44 with 20 seconds left. But with both teams in the double bonus and struggling from the stripe, Floral Park couldn't fully escape danger and North Shore couldn't knot the affair or take a lead. At that point, the name of the game was control.
"I told the girls to keep their composure and play to win," said Coach Spina. "We're a young team and we made some mistakes, but we were able to fight it out and win."
Baldini agreed that the name of the game was keeping cool, whether or not she was on the court for the remaining 57 seconds.
"We were calm, cool and collected," she said. "This is my senior year, and I just knew we couldn't end it like we did last year. And for us to do it against a great team like North Shore was an honor."
The Lady Vikings also bested Floral Park in both regular season games. They were short a few key players as well, but the scoreboard is the judge and the jury and when the clock read 0:00, the Floral Park Lady Knights escaped their higher ranked rival and live to vie for the title.
"I guess three is the charm!" said an excited Baldini.
Floral Park will face Garden City in the Nassau A championships on March 2 at 3PM
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