Francis Lewis was staring at elimination with just over 3 minutes left in regulation Tuesday night. The challenge was to climb back from a 10-point deficit against the defending 15-time PSAL champions Murry Bergraum.
But the Patriots still believed they not down and out in the task of upending the Lady Blazers. Sophomore guard Sierra Green helped to engineer the late turnaround with 10 of her 13 points in the fourth quarter as Francis Lewis rebounded for a 61-57 win over Murry Bergtraum in the PSAL AA girls semifinals at Lehman College.
Francis Lewis will advance to the PSAL AA championship Saturday against top seed South Shore at Barclays Center and Bergtraum won’t be heading to the title game for the first time since 1998. The Patriots (20-3) are ranked No. 4 in New York City by MSG Varsity.
“Everyone was saying we weren’t going to beat Bergtraum. The 15-peat,” said Francis Lewis sophomore guard Taliyah Brisco. “We had a point to prove and now that we proved that point I’m so relieved, I’m so happy.”
Patriots coach Stephen Tsai knew his team was up to the challenge to upend the reigning champions and record one of the biggest wins in the history of the program.
“It’s all the girls who believed. Not one time did we think we couldn’t come back,” Tsai said. “We picked it up in the fourth quarter, if we were going to go down, we have to go down our way.”
No. 3 seed Francis Lewis never took the lead during the game, and were down 55-45 with 3:14 remaining in the contest. Green, who was scoreless in the first half due to the defense played by Bergtraum guard Joella Gibson, used poise and a bit of fury to spark the team’s late revival.
The Patriots went on a crucial 13-2 run with Green knocking down an almost 30-foot 3-pointer to draw the game level at 56-all with 1:06 left. Green would hit two free throws to give Francis Lewis the first lead of the contest at 58-57 with 38.2 left to go.
“In my head I let Joella get to me. It was all anger basically because I wasn’t able to shoot the whole game,” Green said. “I only had like 2 in the half and I wanted to finish it.”
Green gave the Patriots their first lead of the contest with 38.2 seconds left by knocking down 2 free throws at 58-57. Bergtraum continued to go ice cold when Gibson missed a layup for Bergtraum and Alexandria Smith fouled Patriots center Chelsea Robinson with 24.5 seconds left.
Robinson, the 6-foot 1 transfer from The Taft School in Connecticut, hit one of two free throws to increase the lead 2 points. Lady Blazers guard Ashanae McLaughlin drove to the middle of the lane and had the ball stripped by Lewis guard Dominique Williams. Cassidy Khan would hit the open layup with 13 seconds left to put Francis up 61-57.
Bergtraum (21-4), ranked No. 3 in New York City by MSG Varsity, looked poise to clinch their 16th straight title appearance. Smith, the Lady Blazers 6-foot-3 center scored 12 of her 14 points in the first half and Ashanae McLaughlin had a game high 19 points.
But the team would not hit a field goal in the last 3:14 of the game, and also had a few costly turnovers to end their season. Bergtraum did not have the services of Fordham bound Aaliyah Jones, who briefly returned for a minute in the quarterfinals, but did not play with an ACL injury suffered prior to the start of the season.
“It’s a part of the game. We had a good run. Listen you try to win as much as you can,” Bergtraum coach Ed Grezinsky said. “We worked very hard. We had the game all the way. We lost in the end. That’s the way it goes.”
Francis Lewis will be jubilant for the next few days, but Tsai says the team must prepare for a title matchup against South Shore. The Patriots defeated South Shore in the only meeting of the regular season, 76-73, in overtime
“I think we had the lead for what 30 seconds?” Tsai said. “I’m so tired right now. I think it’ll hit me and everything but I told the girls we can’t settle for this. This is not why we’re here. We are here for something bigger.”