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Jara's Hot Hand Lifts Uniondale to Nassau Class AA finals
Uniondale Head Coach Danielle Nichol knew one thing: her team needed some outside shooting. Locked in a tight semi-final clash with league rivals, Farmingdale, either team could've benefited from some sniper tactics in a defensive standoff where turnovers were frequent and solid runs were rare. So she tapped a freshman to get the job done.
"We didn't do a good job of finding [freshman shooting guard] Ashley Jara in the first half," the coach said. "But in the second half our defense got going, we picked up the tempo and found her."
And she delivered. The freshman's hot second half shooting was ultimately the difference maker in Uniondale knocking off a senior-laden and battle-tested Farmingdale Lady Dalers unit, 43-39, and securing them a spot in the Nassau Class AA championship game.
The Lady Dalers and Lady Knights negated each other early, as the former missed easy chip shots and the latter turned the ball over against Farmingdale's smothering defense and penchant for keeping hands in passing lanes. The turnover bug eventually bit both teams in the second quarter, but Farmingdale's hustle antics got a boost with solid offensive play from guard Nadine Hadnagy. The senior drove to the hoop to give the Lady Dalers a 16-12 lead, but would soon collect her second foul at the 4:13 mark and be forced to the bench for the rest of the half. Never to be out hustled, the Lady Dalers held serve without their leading scorer, despite points coming few and far between.
"We knew a game with them would be close like this," said Coach Nichols of Farmingdale, with whom the Lady Knight split during the regular season. "But we did a horrible job controlling the pace in the first half and let them work in the half court."
Farmingdale's Lauren Hill (8 points) and Amanda Hausmann (6 points) fought for inside buckets and thrived in the half court set, with the latter joining senior forward Courtney Irby (8 points) to pound against the Lady Knights' bigger front line for rebounds. A quick burst from Aliyah McDonald (who scored a game high 15 points for Uniondale) would keep the Lady Knights in it, though, and Farmingdale was holding onto a 20-16 halftime lead.
"At halftime we wanted to pick up the pace," divulged Coach Nichol. "I think once we got in transition, you could see the energy on defense pick up."
And Jara picked her spots. A trey set things off and brought the Lady Knights within one, then McDonald utilized that defensive energy to come up with a steal to give Uniondale a lead they would never relinquish. But it wasn't easy to maintain that cushion.
Never a team to wilt under pressure, Farmingdale overcame a flurry of turnovers to make it a nail biter at the two minute mark. Hill's second triple of the fourth quarter made it a 37-35 game with 1:56 left, then Hadnagy (who led Farmingdale with 13 points) showed senior gumption with a tough turnaround move in the paint to tie it at 37. But Jara had the hot hand throughout the second half and continued to let Farmingdale know it.
"[Farmingdale] were pressing us, so I just cut strong to get open," said Jara, who scored all 12 of her points in the second half. But did she have any confidence issues as a freshman pulling the trigger in a game of this magnitude?
"I know I'm the shooter so I just let it fly," she said with a laugh. "I'll shoot it till my arm falls off."
Jara's arm remained intact to nail the biggest shot of the game, a deuce on a kick out pass from forward Jayda Hyatt (6 points) that gave the Knights a 39-37 lead with time running low. Never a team to be counted out, the Lady Dalers got a few attempts before all was done, but couldn't convert and when Hadnagy fouled out with 0:54 left, their chances of getting back to the big dance began to slip away. McDonald would seal the victory from the stripe and stamp Uniondale's ticket to face Massapequa in the finals on March 2 at 5:30 PM at CW Post.
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