CLIFTON PARK — Its season ended with a win on its home court rather than with a game at Hudson Valley Community College, where the Section II and state girls’ basketball playoffs usually finish up.
That made for a “bittersweet” conclusion to the season, Shenendehowa senior Rylee Carpenter said, but it was heavier on the sweet than the bitter.
“Two months ago,” Carpenter said, “I would have been really upset about it. But, as this season went on, I definitely realized that we were lucky to be where we are right now.”
That “right now” was minutes after Shenendehowa completed its perfect season Friday with a 75-37 victory against a short-handed Saratoga Springs squad in the championship game of the Suburban Council postseason tournament. A month and a day after Shenendehowa started its season with the first of its 15 double-digit wins, the Plainsmen concluded their undefeated season that started late and ended early with its final demonstration that they would have been a top contender to win a state championship this year if given the opportunity.
Basketball — and other “high” risk winter sports — had a much-delayed start to its season as authorization from the state Department of Health and local health authorities was needed before competition could get underway. Shenendehowa’s first game took place on Feb. 11, and the campaign began with the decision already made that Section II and state tournaments would not take place this year because of issues related to the novel coronavirus pandemic that also canceled the final rounds of last year’s state playoffs.
Shenendehowa head coach Joe Murphy said he offered one last apology to his team’s seniors after Friday’s game that they never got the chance as juniors or seniors to see if they could win the Plainsmen’s first state championship since 1999.
“But we were so happy we got something in,” Murphy said. “I’m sure in a couple months we’ll be very thankful we got it in, but there will always be that ‘what if?’ for these kids. Two years in a row, with such a special group of kids, that we had it cut short without the opportunity to see where we really were.”
From start to finish, Shenendehowa dominated the abbreviated campaign it was allowed to play. No team played the Plainsmen closer than a dozen points, and Shenendehowa won its games by an average margin of nearly 40 points per game.
Nearly all games this high school basketball season in Section II were played without fans present, but each player involved in Friday’s league championship games — Shenendehowa topped Troy in the night’s boys’ game — was allowed to have two fans in attendance. In front of a small, but passionate crowd, Shenendehowa used a 25-4 run that stretched from the middle of the first quarter to the middle of the second to eliminate any suspense.
Shenendehowa led 35-20 at halftime and maintained at least that 15-point lead for all of the second half. Junior Jillian Huerter scored a game-high 21 points for Shenendehowa, while senior Meghan Huerter had 17 and Carpenter added 14. For Saratoga Springs, which was playing without sophomore standout Tasha Chudy, senior Abby Ray scored a team-high 13 points.
Shenendehowa (No. 1 seed, 15-0 overall) defeated Colonie and Albany on its way to Friday’s championship game, while Saratoga Springs (No. 3, 9-3) advanced with wins against Guilderland and Averill Park.
Saratoga Springs head coach Robin Chudy’s daughter missed the team’s final two games because of a “serious stress reaction” in her femur. Tasha Chudy scored 21 points in the team’s quarterfinal win against Guilderland, and the sophomore’s teammates found a way without her in the lineup to upset Averill Park in the semifinals.
“My girls stepped up,” Robin Chudy said.
That was a theme throughout the season for Saratoga Springs, a group Chudy said “worked super hard” to get the most possible out of its shortened senior. The delay to the start of the season lasted months, and Chudy said there were times her seniors “were feeling a little hopeless” that they wouldn’t be able to wear their school’s uniform one last time.
Once they found out they could, they never took for granted that opportunity.
“For us to even get on the court has been amazing,” Chudy said. “I think our girls have cherished every moment of it.”
The same was true for the Plainsmen.
“Every day, when we got to practice, we tried making the most of it,” Shenendehowa senior Samantha Lee said.
Meghan Huerter seconded that. The Providence College-bound senior, whose older brother Kevin plays for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, said the Plainsmen kept their focus on getting better each day during this unusual season that saw players compete while wearing protective face masks due to COVID-19 concerns.
“What coach Murphy demands of us is a lot, and we always buy into whatever he wants us to do,” Huerter said. “We all really appreciate him being our coach and we just want to win at the end of the day for him.”
Lee said it’ll sting Monday when Shenendehowa doesn’t practice. At that point, she said, the realization will truly set in that the season is complete.
But, after so much doubt, there was a season.
“Just to be able to be here,” Carpenter said, “is something that was so exciting.”
Saratoga Springs 7 13 10 7 — 37
Shenendehowa 16 19 22 18 — 75
Saratoga Springs scoring: Spain 1-0-3, Ray 5-2-13, Claeson 1-1-3, Carminucci 1-0-2, Wise 0-2-2, Patnode 3-4-10, LaFountain 1-1-4. Shenendehowa scoring: J. Huerter 8-4-21, Montanez 2-0-6, Slader 2-0-6, Carpenter 5-2-14, Carey 1-0-3, Wilders 1-1-4, Cholakis 1-0-2, M. Huerter 7-2-17, Lee 1-0-2. Scoring totals: Saratoga Springs 12-10-37, Shenendehowa 28-9-75.