JFK Girls Run Into Juggernaut
By ALEX KRATZ
At one point in the second half of Sunday’s lopsided New York City public high school girls basketball championship game, mountainous Murry Bergtraum center Shakeya Leary held the ball aloft as Kennedy’s Danay Collier jumped and vainly swiped at it.
That scene effectively sums up Kennedy’s experience at Madison Square Garden in the school’s first championship game ever. The Lady Knights fought hard, but in the end, number-one-ranked and undefeated Murry Bergtraum, winners of eight straight city titles, proved too much and Kennedy fell 79-56. Bergtraum was simply bigger, stronger, faster and better.
After the game, Kennedy head coach O’Neill Glenn, a former NFL lineman, stood away from his team, his eyes glazed over like he had just witnessed an unspeakable tragedy. He shook his head. “I tried everything,” he said.
Earlier in the year, Kennedy lost to Bergtraum, a lower Manhattan girls basketball juggernaut, by just six points – a worthy effort prompting optimism that the Lady Knights might have a chance at an upset in the title rematch.
But that game was at home in the northwest Bronx. This game was on the biggest stage New York City has to offer: the self-proclaimed World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, home of the Knicks, Liberty and Rangers.
“It’s a great experience,” Glenn said somberly after the game. “Not a lot of kids get a chance to play in the Garden.”
Hundreds of police surrounded the arena as thousands of students and fans lined up to pass through metal detectors. (Later those extra police would come in handy when a brawl erupted midway through the boys’ championship game that followed the girls’ final. According to police, the brawl spilled onto the streets and shots were fired outside the arena, but no one was injured.)
From the opening tip, Glenn sensed that his girls were nervous as they struggled to break through Bergtraum’s relentless full-court pressure defense. Early on, the smaller Lady Knights beat the press a few times for easy buckets, but jitters led to several missed shots and squandered scoring opportunities.
Bergtraum’s Lady Blazers took advantage of Kennedy’s early-game nerves, ripping off a 12-2 scoring run, to end the first quarter with a 26-11 lead.
But the Lady Knights didn’t just wilt. Led by senior guard Tatiyana McMorris’ slashing drives through the teeth of Bergtraum’s slapping, swatting defense, Kennedy kept attacking.
They just couldn’t score consistently or stop Bergtraum’s powerful offense, led by senior Erica Morrow, who sported a bright red streak on top of her curly ponytailed hair. The Syracuse-bound guard led the PSAL in scoring this year and finished the game with 24 points, including a bevy of heartbreaking three pointers.
Morrow’s most devastating triple came at the end of the first half.
Kennedy, fighting fatigue, had scored five straight points, two on a twisting, impossible lay-up by Collier that cut Bergtraum’s lead to 42-25 with less than a minute remaining.
But Morrow, who was presented with the PSAL player of the year award during a break in the third quarter, responded with a deep three pointer at the buzzer to push the lead back to 20.
Despite the seemingly insurmountable deficit, the Lady Knights continued to battle to the very end. In fact, Kennedy played its best in the fourth quarter, shooting over 50 percent from the field and outscoring the Lady Blazers 18-14.
At the end of the game, Bergtraum’s fans were yelling for their team to break the 80-point mark, but Kennedy held them off, salvaging another moral victory.
McMorris, the team’s emotional leader, cried softly as she posed for a sportsmanship award and a team photo. The loss will not be the end of her basketball career. Next year, the Castle Hill resident will attend Marquette on a full basketball scholarship.
“It’s tough,” McMorris said, fighting back tears. “Their press was good, but… they were just the better team today.”
McMorris and Kennedy had to rebound quickly from the disappointment. They played Manhattan Center on Tuesday night (after we went to press) for a place in the state tournament.
Asked if he was disappointed with the outcome on Sunday, Glenn perked up. “No, I’m not disappointed. This is a part of life.”
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