HUDSON -- The adage that defense wins championships is one of the oldest and most often used in sports. Never was it more true than in Tuesday's Patroon Conference girls basketball championship game between Greenville and Hudson.
The Spartans used a suffocating pressure defense to create numerous turnovers that they turned into points to dethrone the two-time defending champion Bluehawks, 54-43.
Greenville finishes with a 17-1 record in the Patroon, one game ahead of Hudson, which compiled a 16-2 league mark. The victory also atones for a 63-60 setback the Spartans suffered at the hands of the Bluehawks on Jan. 25.
Spartans coach Brian Haller was ecstatic with his team's play.
"Going against Bryce and Hudson the past four years, we've always been right there with them, always close games. They're so well-coached, they never give up, they fly around the whole game," Haller said. "So to come in here tied with them on their home court, after they got us on our court a few weeks ago, it came down to the wire and I'm just happy for the girls right now.
"At the beginning of the year, no one mentioned Greenville. They mentioned Ava, but they really didn't know what else we had. It means more to me, actually, for the girls to have lost the first game to them and then come back and win it on their home floor. They have worked hard and I'm just happy that they get to see the fruits of that labor with the hard work that they've put in."
The Bluehawks got off to a fast start, taking a 20-10 lead after the first quarter of play and extending it to 23-11 in the opening minute of the second stanza. That's when the Spartans went to a full-court pressure defense and the tables turned.
Greenville went on a 20-2 run to close out the period to take a 32-25 lead at halftime.
"We've done it all year," Haller said of the pressure defense. "We like to cause turnovers and get out on the break. We missed a lot of layups in the second half, which kept it close. I tell the girls we didn't want to get into a set offense. We want to get a tip and a steal and we want to get out on the break. Friday against Albany Leadership was probably our worst performance of the year, so I was a little concerned whether we were on a roll or not or if we hit a dead spot with basketball. That was the turning point, though, when they really struggled in the second quarter with breaking the press and we were able to get transition off of it. That was huge.
"I always tell the girls, the press might not bother you much at first, but as you go along it's very draining to inbound the ball and to constantly have that defender there waiting for you. In the second quarter what I was most proud of is they had 20 points at the end of the first quarter and they only scored five in the second quarter. We came into the game saying no three's. We had to make them score two's, and after that first quarter we took away (Emily) Clark and (Mykal) Walters and (Jenya) Robinson. Those were the three we were worried about. That was the plan going in and we didn't execute it in the first quarter, but the second quarter and from there on we did."
A late scoring flurry at the end of the third quarter brought Hudson back to within 43-38, but the Spartans limited the Bluehawks to just five more points the rest of the way, while scoring 11 over the final eight minutes to lock up the championship.
Ava Fitzmaurice, the leading scorer in Section 2, finished with 17 points and 10 assists, along with a boatload of steals and forced turnovers. Kaitlin McGuinness and Isabella Trostle each had 11 points.
"We talked going into this game after watching tape on Hudson the first time, they were throwing two and three girls at Ava, so we talked about the openings in the seams we were going to be able to get into and how Ava can't do to much," Haller said "You can't worry about the fact you're our leading scorer and you can't worry about your points and she made some really nice passes tonight. We shared the ball and Kaitlin McGuinness, I'm so happy for her. She played the game of her career, defensively and offensively, but it was a team effort and that makes it even sweeter."
Haller, who returned to coaching the Spartans this year after taking a year off, knew he had a good team coming back, but didn't know just how good.
"I was away from the program for a year, but I was still involved somewhat," Haller said. "I knew who was there, I knew who was coming up and what they could do. I saw a glimpse of it in the summer league when we beat Saugerties in the finals, but then we lost Krasney again and at that point I was wondering if we'd be able to score enough. I told them in the lockerroom that I think I underestimated them, too. It makes it that much sweeter when no one expects you to be there."
Robinson had 12 points and Shayna Coppersmith 10 for Hudson.
Both teams now set their sights on the Section 2 playoffs, Greenville in Class C and Hudson in Class B. The seeding meeting to determines who, when and where the teams play will be held today.
Haller feels his Spartans have a shot at winning some games in the postseason.
"This is a big win for our seed," Halle said. "People could have argued that we didn't beat anyone with a stellar record, but to beat Hudson, which is a good B team really helps. The Patroon has got to win games before we start getting higher seeds. I've coached three years prior to this and I've lost in the second round every time. I think everybody is beatable in Class C. I think it's wide open and if we play with the energy we played with tonight we can beat anybody. We'll see."
GREENVILLE (54): Fitzmaurice 7-3-17, Kennedy 1-0-2, Krasney 3-0-6, McGuineess 4-1-11 (2), Rauf 2-1-5, Trostle 4-3-11, Van Fleet 0-2-2. Totals 21-10-54 (2).
HUDSON (43): Alvarez 1-0-2, Beauford 2-1-5, Clark 2-0-5 (1), Coppersmith 3-4-10, Rivenburg 1-0-2, Robinson 5-0-12 (2), Walters 3-0-7 (1). Totals 17-5-43 (4)
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