The Albany girls’ basketball team had a coming-out party Monday night at the Times Union Center, and everyone in blue and white had a great time.
Getting contributions in some manner from everyone that played meaningful minutes, the Lady Falcons beat Bethlehem, 64-47, to win the school’s first Class AA championship since 1998.
“We’ve been waiting for something like this to happen for a long time,” said first-year head coach Decky Lawson after his team ran over and celebrated with its fans. “We took it one game at a time, the girls worked hard every day and I’m loving the feeling right now.”
Albany, which snapped the Suburban Council’s run of winning “AA” titles at six, goes on to the regional finals Saturday, when it will play Section III champion Cicero-North Syracuse at noon at Onondaga Community College.
As usual, Emia Willingham-Hurst led the way for 20-1 Albany, earning tournament MVP honors.
“I’ve been waiting for this. I finally got it my senior year,” said Willingham-Hurst, who had seen her sophomore season end in the semis, and her junior year finish with a loss in the final. “It feels great.”
“She goes out big before she goes on to the next level,” said Lawson. “I’m so proud of her. She put a lot of work in, and the work paid off.”
“We’ve worked so hard for this,” said Melissa Canty, the only other senior on the roster. “We’ve been waiting for this. It’s a great feeling, relief, happiness, pride, everything.”
Willingham-Hurst scored seven of her game-high 15 points in the first quarter, as Albany got out to a 20-13 lead, and extended it to 31-20 at the half. She also finished with a team-high 13 rebounds (six offensive), and had five steals. She was also credited with three assists, but it seemed like she found open teammates all game.
Bethlehem, which shot just 27 percent from the floor, took a big hit when Bridget Murphy, the Lady Eagles’ only senior starter, picked up her third foul and spent nearly all of the second quarter on the bench, while her team scored just one basket.
“We, across the board, had foul trouble, but losing Bridget hurt,” said Bethlehem coach Matthew Bixby, whose team suffered its first loss of the season after 20 wins. “I thought how well Bridget played in the second half showed how much we missed her.”
Even with Murphy back on the court and playing well, Bethlehem fell further behind, trailing by 47-31 late in the third when freshman guard Ayanna Hunter made a pair of three-point baskets.
“I thought we did a nice job responding to their runs, but the thing was, we then couldn’t keep them from responding,” said Bixby.
A lot of that was because there was no one player Bethlehem could key on.
Hunter showed why she will be one of the best guards in Section II for the next three years with a 13-point, seven-assist game.
“She relieves so much pressure off Emia,” Lawson said of Hunter. “She’s able to handle the ball. What she does is so huge. She’s acting like a college player right now.”
Cara Waterson hit a trio of important three-point baskets on the way to an 11-point game. Canty came off the bench to get eight points and seven rebounds. Ariel Greer, who started in place of Canty, had eight points and eight rebounds. Mylah Chandler also scored eight points, and helped Albany easily win the rebounding battle, 46-35, by grabbing seven.
“That’s why they’re 20-1 and just won a sectional championship,” Bixby said. “They’re very balanced. They can beat you on the inside. Waterson can shoot from the outside. They’ve got kids who can break you down off the dribble. They’re a very solid team. They’re going to be very tough to beat going forward in the [state] tournament.”
“I let them go out and do what they had to do,” said Lawson. “As long as our girls are playing fundamental basketball, without me having to step in on everything, I’m loving what they did tonight.”
G. Giacone 5-3-13, Rickert 2-1-6, J. Giacone 6-0-14, Murphy 4-0-8, O’Donnell 1-4-6. Totals: 18-8-47.
Hunter 3-7-13, Willingham-Hurst 6-3-15, Waterson 3-2-11, Chandler 4-0-8, Greer 3-2-8, Canty 3-2-8, Dollard 0-1-1. Totals: 22-17-64.
Bethlehem 13 7 13 14 — 47
Albany 20 11 16 17 — 64
Three-point goals: Rickert, J.Giacone 2, Waterson 3.