With one huge defensive stand in the closing seconds of last Saturday’s Nassau Class A girls’ basketball championship game, No. 1 Elmont erased nightmares of recent playoff defeats to capture its first county title since the 2003-04 campaign with a 50-49 victory over second-seeded North Shore before a crowd of 1,500 at Hofstra.
The Lady Vikings, who were seeking a fourth crown in six seasons, trailed by 6 points with less than 30 seconds remaining and came within inches of adding to Elmont’s postseason disappointment. Junior standout Gabby Zaffiro (20 points) was smack in the middle of the late rally, hitting a 3-pointer before junior Selena Fortich’s basket cut the deficit to 1. Another turnover gave North Shore the game’s final possession, but a potential championship-winning shot wouldn’t fall.
“We always preach defense, and it was fitting it came down to making a stop against a tremendous opponent,” Elmont head coach Tom Magno said. “This was two great teams going at each other for 32 minutes. I had a strong feeling it would come right down to the end.”
Sophomore Gigi Faison (15) and junior Jada Fernandez (12) scored in double figures for the Lady Spartans (22-1), who will face Mt. Sinai in the Long Island Class A championship game this Saturday at noon at SUNY-Old Westbury.
North Shore finished 21-2. “Nothing I could say to the girls is going to change the way they feel, but I told them how proud I am,” North Shore head coach Keith Freund said. “They’re resilient and tough and never give up. They’re just a pleasure to coach.”
The victory was Elmont’s 60th in its last 64 games. Two of the four losses came in last year’s Class A title game against Floral Park and in the AA semifinals against Massapequa.
“I’ve got happy tears,” said Elmont junior Kem Nwabudu, who had 8 points and 14 rebounds. “We didn’t want this season to end like the past two. We got behind, but there’s four quarters in a game and we kept pushing.”
North Shore made the Lady Spartans press as hard as they needed to all season. Behind senior Ashleigh Sheerin (15 points), Zaffiro and Fortich, the Lady Vikings led 25-21 at halftime and stretched the advantage to 9 points after Zaffiro hit her first two attempts in the third quarter.
“Our offense feeds off our defense,” Magno said. “We know we’re never out of a game even if we’re not shooting well.”
Elmont’s comeback, which began 90 seconds into the second half, was sparked by junior Zhaneia Thybulle, senior Kiera Holland (9 points) and Fernandez. A buzzer-beater by Fernandez tied it at 34 heading into the fourth, and it was knotted at 42 when Faison stuck a go-ahead trey with 3:17 left.
“We had a game plan to contain Thybulle and Nwabudu, limit their fast breaks and rebound,” Freund said. “I thought we accomplished everything we set out to do. If someone would’ve told me we’d be down 1 with the ball with 15 seconds left, I would’ve signed up for it.”