MILLTOWN — All night against Saint Mark’s on Feb. 21, the Polytech girls basketball team stayed close to the Spartans, but they could not take the lead. That changed with 31 seconds remaining, and the Panthers closed out their most successful regular season since 2002-03 with a 51-48 squeaker over the Spartans.
The teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 32, but Sophia Baffone untied it quickly with a 15-foot catch-and-shoot to get things started. Gillian Cantagallo added two more for the Spartans with a long two-point shot after taking a pass from Hailey Short. After a pair of free throws by Polytech forward Kallie Hopkins, Lauren McDonald extended the Saint Mark’s advantage to five when she nailed a three-pointer.
Two free throws from McDonald made it 43-39 Spartans with 2:26 remaining, but Jasryn Scott-Cottman cut that in half with a runner off the glass. A Sky Naranjo free throw cut the Panthers’ deficit to a single point, but Cantagallo came up big, hitting a mid-range jumper at the 1:02 mark.
The Spartans followed that bucket with a steal, but they were unable to capitalize. Naranjo was fouled as she banked in a runner, but she was unable to tie the game with her free throw with 38 seconds left. The Panthers, however, came up with a big offensive rebound, and a foul sent Hopkins to the line. She made one of two to knot the score at 45.
Another offensive rebound was key in the victory. Naranjo grabbed a missed Panthers shot and dropped in the follow shot, and Poly was ahead by two. But the game was far from over.
Short made one of two free throws, but so did Sierra Henry, so the Panthers remained on top by a pair. On Henry’s missed second free throw, however, the Panthers snagged another offensive board. Henry went back to the line and added one more free throw to make the lead 49-46.
McDonald was fouled at midcourt following a Spartans timeout, and she made both from the stripe. Naranjo was next to the line, and she hit a pair with 8.3 seconds to go. Saint Mark’s had one last chance, but McDonald’s attempt to tie was just off the mark.
Hopkins had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Naranjo had 14 points and 12 boards for the Panthers. Henry added 10 points. Polytech finished the regular season 15-5.
Saint Mark’s statistics were not available late Tuesday night. The Spartans closed out the regular season at 13-7.
Both teams will find out about their postseason plans on Friday, when the bracket is released.
All photos by Mike Lang.