Lady Spartans repeat as county Class A champs

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From the moment Elmont and North Shore advanced to the Nassau County Class A girls’ championship game, basketball enthusiasts were champing at the bit in anticipation of the rematch of last year’s title game, a thriller won by the Lady Spartans 50-49.

Fans expected the highly talented players to light up the scoreboard, and for the game to be played at a frenetic pace.

What they didn’t expect was a one-sided affair.

Jada Fernandez scored a career-high 24 points and pulled down eight rebounds to lead No. 1 Elmont to a convincing 75-44 victory last Saturday afternoon at the Nold Hall Athletic Center on the campus of Farmingdale State College.

Zhanaia Thybulle added 22 points, five assists and four steals as the Spartans advanced to the Long Island championship game. They were scheduled to take on Hauppauge on Thursday at 5 p.m. at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood.

Gabrielle Zaffiro, who ended her illustrious career as Long Island’s all-time second-leading scorer with 2,644 points, led the Lady Vikings with 22. Sophomore Jennifer Walton added 9 points for No. 3 North Shore, which finished with an overall record of 20-2.

The Lady Spartans fired on all cylinders, but it was the execution of their defensive game plan that was stellar. Each time Zaffiro attempted dribble penetration, Elmont closed up the seams, forcing her to dish the ball off. Time and time again, the quickness and intelligence displayed by the Spartans resulted in steals and baskets in transition.

An exuberant Gigi Faison, who scored 6 points and had a game-high seven assists, was solid in all facets. “My mentality is always pass-first,” Faison said. “I like setting my teammates up to score. We worked all week on defensive principles. And Jada, well, she just killed it out there. She killed it. That’s that. I was so happy for her.”

Fernandez spent most of the game matched up with Zaffiro on the perimeter, as she’s always tasked with defending the opponent’s top scorer. Her conventional 3-point play to close out the third quarter, off a pinpoint pass from Faison, gave Elmont a 57-28 lead. Fernandez, who hit nine of 12 from the field for the game, scored 10 points in the quarter.

“I came into the game pretty nervous, but I knew what I needed to do,” Fernandez said. “We wanted to win so badly. I feel like we executed on offense and defense much better than we did in last year’s game.”

Elmont, which improved to 21-2, also got strong contributions from Kem Nwabadu (13 points, nine rebounds), Zarria Franklin (8 points) and Chiamaka Ubani (six rebounds.)

North Shore head coach Keith Freund gave Elmont its props and reflected on Zaffiro’s brilliant career. “We normally don’t play that way, but you have to give them all the credit,” Freund said. “We weren’t surprised by anything they were doing. It was just their day and not ours. I can’t put into words what Gabby has meant to this program. She’s an amazing player and an even better person. I will miss her dearly.”