ALBANY — What if Keyonte Edwards had been able to play? What if those several shots that bounced out of the basket bounced in? What if they were a little sharper with the ball? What if they had just one or two more calls go their way?
Those are understandable, natural questions to ask for the Cardinal O’Hara girls basketball team and its supporters, but, as with any game, not much can come of dwelling on them.
Here’s a much more worthwhile what-if: What if the Hawks just lost to perhaps the best small school girls basketball team the state has ever seen?
Cardinal O’Hara had one of Western New York’s finest girls basketball campaigns in recent memory end with a loss to a team that is coming off four such seasons. On the final day of high school basketball in New York State, the Hawks fell, 65-48, to Irvington of Westchester County in the state Federation Class B title game Sunday.
The Hawks did not have one of their best players (Edwards was on hand, but sidelined with a blood clot in her right shoulder), and they did not play their best game. They likely would have needed both to be able to beat an Irvington team that won its third Federation title in the last four seasons, a quadrennial that has included four straight public school state Class B championships and 105 victories.
Before an estimated 250 at the Times Union Center, Irvington senior 6-footer Lexi Martins earned MVP honors after putting forth a 22-point, 16-rebound performance despite serious foul trouble (three in the first half). Outstanding senior point guard Brittni Lai had 15 points, four assists and four steals for the Bulldogs, who went 25-2 in a season in which they beat the Federation Class A champion (Long Island Lutheran) and suffered their only losses to Class AA public school champion and fellow Section I school Ossining.
“I don’t think there were too many other people that thought we’d give them that kind of a game without Keyonte, but those are people that don’t know our team very well,” O’Hara coach Dan McDermott said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the way the girls performed today against those odds, and against that team, which is just an awesome team. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
With Martins in foul trouble, the Hawks were within two points late in the second quarter at 24-22. But several misses and turnovers aided a 6-0 half-closing run by the Bulldogs, who went on to claim the game with a 23-13 third quarter.
“We had it 24-22 and gave them six points,” McDermott said. “Even [the halftime score] was better than most people expected, and we were disappointed going in that it was eight points. We had the game where we wanted it to be. We just couldn’t seem to buy a bucket when we needed one.”
In the third quarter, Irvington displayed the kind of basketball that has earned it piles of plaques and ribbons the last four years.
Martins, who never picked up her fourth foul, scored Irvington’s first eight points of the third to open a 38-26 lead. Two of the baskets came after wonderful hot-potato ball movement to create a good shot for Martins. Then it was Lai’s turn, making a steal and layup, and then a three-pointer to put Irvington up, 43-26, with 3:20 left in the third. Irvington kept its cushion to the end of the quarter as it took a 53-35 lead to the fourth, where the lead would hit 19.
Edwards, who was unable to make it for the Hawks’ semifinal victory Saturday morning, was on hand to support her team. Her road trip with McDermott’s wife started at 5:30 a.m. and she surprised her teammates in the locker room for their pregame meeting.
“When they told the coaches to come in, I was behind the coaches, and when I came in there was so much emotion and enjoyment,” Edwards said. “It was better to be here than not be here, because I got to share the moment. It’s been an amazing season.”
Edwards spent the game on the bench near the coaches, cheering and encouraging her teammates. And when things unfolded the way they did, she became a consoler-in-chief as well. When McDonell, O’Hara’s all-time leading scorer, fouled out with 4:17 to go and the Hawks down 14, Edwards greeted the devastated senior captain, took her to the end of the bench and held her as McDonell was overcome with emotion.
“When I fouled out, I was like ‘Oh my goodness,’ and she was right there,” said McDonell, who will play at Daemen next year. “She knew it was the last time I’d be on the floor in high school.”
Said Edwards: “She thinks it’s over. High school is over, but she’s starting college. It’s not over. She’s an amazing player She broke records – Leah is just amazing. I had to tell her, ‘don’t feel down.’ ”
McDonell had 13 points and was named to the All-Tournament team, while junior forward Kelsey McCarthy scored 12 on 6-of-10 shooting and had 11 rebounds. Junior guard Aisha Shabazz added nine points, senior forward Sara DiPasquale had six points and six rebounds and senior guard Kayla Brown had five points and four steals.
“We know we fought hard, and we overcame a lot of things this season,” said Brown. “There’s nothing to be sad about.”