Late rally gives Hornets back-to-back Little Pal championships

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The Hornets won the Little Pal championship to cap a perfect 10-0 season. PHOTO BY KEN MORSE
The Hornets used a furious fourth period rally to overcome a stubborn Wildcats team to capture its second straight senior girls Little Pal championship last Friday at Hillside school.

The Hornets won game one of the best of three series by a convincing 28-17 margin but saw their two year unbeaten streak in jeopardy in game two.

Trailing 18-11 to the (7-2) Wildcats the defending league champions staged a come from behind rally using a 15-7 burst to finish the season at 10-0.

“The kids hung in there,” Hornets head coach John Pruchnicki said. “The Wildcats are a tough team and well coached. We knew going into that last period we needed to use our speed to get the offense going. Our defense was able to shut them down and I’m so proud of these girls. All season long it was our speed that carried us through and it proved to be the difference in the championship game.”

The Wildcats came out and dominated under the boards with Emily Salvatti, Sarah Hanks and Bailey Messenger helping to out rebound the Hornets by a 10-4 margin in the opening period.

Andrea Mercer (11 points) scored six points in the period for the Wildcats but the Hornets clung to an 8-6 advantage after the first period. Michaela Pernell (5 steals) and Stefanie Flores applied the defensive pressure for the Hornets as six turnovers kept the Wildcats behind on the scoreboard.

Abby Pruchnicki brought the ball up court through a tough Wildcats defense as the ‘B’ squads battled it out in the second period. Bridget Rosikiewicz and Veronica Noss helped out on the boards for the Hornets with Tori Burrell and Kayleigh Bergin keying the defensive effort.

The Wildcats sought to overcome the turnover ratio but threw away eight possessions. They, however, still maintained a presence in the paint with Ashley Dalton and Olivia Rotatori adding another nine rebounds to the Cats total. The defensive efforts of Alley Dalton and Jasmine Thorpe held the Hornets to just one point in the period.

Kara Warren hit a shot from the corner and Meagan Wilde threw down a put-back to give the Wildcats an 11-9 lead at the half.

Inspired by their effort in the first half the Wildcats came out in the third period looking to send this series to a deciding game three.

Lauren Burns dropped in a knee-buckling shot from deep in the corner. Mercer filled the lane for a bucket and the Hornets staggered to a time out staring down the barrel of an 18-11 deficit.

The ‘B’ squads came on for the final four minutes of the third period and Elizabeth Crabtree led the Wildcats defensive pressure that kept the Hornets off the scoreboard. Taylor Hunt helped the Hornets on the boards but the defending champs still trailed by seven going to the final period.

Burns came out and buried another shot from the corner to put the Cats on top 20-11 and this series appeared heading to a winner-take-all third game.

That’s when the Hornets shifted gears.

Allison Terry started to make a difference under the basket and her put-back started the comeback.

Pernell went coast-to-coast off a steal and Taylor Campos (10 points) hit a pull-up jumper in the lane. Raina Ceryak hit a foul shot and with 3:25 to go with the Wildcats trying to hang on to a 20-19 lead.

The Hornets took their first lead since the opening period at 21-20 on a runner in the lane from Campos. Burns sank a pair at the line and Hanks went to the rack for a put-back to put the Cats back out in front.

But with the game hanging in the balance Ceryak buried three of four at the charity stripe down the stretch to give the Hornets a one point advantage at 26-25.

Despite the tough loss, Wildcats head coach Bob Burns was proud of his girls.

“Coming into this series we made rebounding our number one priority and it kept us in the game,” Burns said. “Four years ago we took a team that was winless for two consecutive seasons and to be playing in the championship series goes to show you how far they have progressed. I’m proud of the girls’ effort to get to this point and it has been a great season for us.”