Joe Murphy was just happy his players could lose themselves on the basketball court Tuesday night.
That the Shenendehowa girls played well enough to give him a 42-28 win over Saratoga Springs in his debut as the head varsity coach was almost an afterthought.
“After everything that happened last week, I was just happy the girls could get on the court and get back to their normal routine,” said Murphy, whose team had its scheduled opener postponed after the Dec. 1 traffic accident that claimed the lives of football captain Chris Stewart and varsity softball player Deanna Rivers, and left another athlete, Matt Hardy, hospitalized.
“We only practiced a couple of days last week. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen tonight, but I was just really happy they were able to get out there and get back to playing basketball.”
Murphy was promoted from the JV level — where his teams were 68-3 in four years — to replace Ken Strube, who stepped down after last season, his 33rd as Shenendehowa’s head coach.
“It kind of crept up today,” Murphy said of his varsity coaching debut. “I was more focused on getting them ready to go. They were ready to play.”
The Lady Plainsmen released whatever pent-up energy they had on the defensive end of the court. Shenendehowa was so good on defense that Saratoga had more turnovers (16) than points (13) in the first half.
“We were pumped up. We wanted to get out there and play,” said junior Ashley Acker, whose 15 points led all scorers.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on defense at practice. It definitely showed.”
“The girls played great. They were hitting shots and playing good basketball. We came out in the first half and played well,” Murphy said.
Senior Alyx Gleason scored all seven of her points as the Lady Plainsmen took a 19-9 lead at the first break. Acker had eight by halftime, when the lead increased to 32-18.
With senior captain Kristen Connors out indefinitely with an injury, their contributions were important.
“We’re looking to get her back at some point. We don’t want her to get back out there, reinjure herself and be out another couple of weeks,” said Murphy, who paired junior Madi Shea out front with Gleason in Connors’ stead.
“I’d like to have her and Maddie [Shea] out there together. I envisioned the two of them guarding the better players in the area together.
“People have stepped up. We have that mentality that she’d down right now, but we got contributions from Ashley Acker, Alyx Gleason and others.”
Freshman Carly Boland had a strong varsiy debut, finishing with eight points, seven rebounds and eight steals. Senior Alyssia Marsal was held to a pair of free throws, but grabbed 10 rebounds.
“She’s long, she’s smooth, she uses her length,” Murphy said of Boland. “She understands the game. She and Alyssia play well together.”
Saratoga used a press to cut what had been a 21-point Shenendehowa lead to a 13-point disadvantage, 37-24, early in the fourth quarter.
“It sparked a little something, but unfortunately, we didn’t continue to follow through,” said Saratoga coach Colleen Belanger, whose team slipped to 1-1 in the SC and 1-2 overall. “The first half, we let them shut us down. Their defense was phenomenal. They were all over us. We got flustered and went away from what we know.”
Shenendehowa made only one basket and scored 10 points in the second half.
“This is a young team. Alyssia played a lot last year. Alyx played in spots, Mary Kate [Dufort] in spots. We’ve got a couple of freshmen, an eighth-grader. Madi was my point guard when she was a JV player last year. We’re still learning.”
And learning that defense will play a big role in their season.
“I’ve been preaching defense, and they’ve bought into that concept,” Murphy said. “I told them at
halftime that the offense is going to go up and down. Defense is the key, and tonight, we held them to 28 points.”
Rutz 1-0-3, Petruccione 3-3-10, Signor 1-0-2, Aube 1-0-2, Plummer 2-0-4, Fleming 1-0-2, A.Mahoney 0-1-1, Klotz 2-0-4. Totals: 11-4-28.
Gleason 3-0-7, Shea 1-1-3, Marsal 0-2-2, Acker 4-5-15, Boland 2-4-8, Sangare 2-0-4, Dufort 1-1-3. Totals: 13-13-42.
Saratoga 9 4 6 9 — 28
Shenendehowa 19 13 5 5 — 42
Three-point goals: Gleason, Acker 2.