Setting the Scene: When I’m walking into the McDonough Sports Complex at Hudson Valley Community College, it’s officially the home stretch of high school basketball season in New York. In just over two weeks, we’ll be putting a bow on the 2021-22 season and it’ll be off to AAU. In the meantime though, plenty of important high school hoops to get to. Wednesday marked my first of at least six planned days at HVCC between now & March 20. This evening was dedicated to the Section 2 Class A semifinals, as prohibitive favorite Averill Park and primary challenger Burnt Hills faced off against Catholic Central and Queensbury for the right to return this weekend.
(1) Averill Park 77, (4) Catholic Central 50
75 Words or Less: It wasn’t quite 32 minutes of dominance, but AP started both halves looking every bit like a powerhouse and sprinted past a young CCHS group. They jumped to a 15-4 lead in the first 5+ minutes, then as the game steadied with a 12 point halftime margin, they went 16-2 in the first 5 minutes of the 3rd to blow it wide open. Amelia Wood 24, Taylor Holohan 22, Michelina Lombardi 14 in the win.
THE FULL STORY
It might be a game, but the top seeded Warriors didn’t play around from the jump, and a fast start for Amelia Wood (Averill Park 2022, Sacred Heart signee) helped set the tone. After Bailee Lange (Averill Park 2023) got a layup off a set on their opening possession, Wood had an and-one in transition, another make to go up 7-0 just a minute in, and after Navi Turpin (CCHS 2025) got the Crusaders on the board, Wood canned a long three to give her 8 quick points & make it 10-2 just 90 seconds into the game. Michelina Lombardi (Averill Park 2022, Le Moyne signee) scored to make it a double digit lead, but she’d pick up her 2nd foul at the 4:14 mark and take a seat on the bench for the rest of the half. Catholic Central started to gain some traction later in the frame led by the prowess of El’Dior Dobere (CCHS 2027), but the Averill Park offense was still a Wood stove. Amelia reeled off 14 points in the opening quarter, and the Warriors led 23-9 after one.
The 4 seed undoubtedly had their best sustained stretch of play in the 2nd quarter. AP extended their lead to 17, again on a Wood make & this time in the post, but the youth of Catholic High struck again as the margin steadied in the teens. Ella DiBacco (CCHS 2026) canned two threes in the frame and Turpin added another two field goals, the latter to trim their deficit to 12. Wood bumped her 1st half point total to 20 with a 4/4 stretch that included two on a 5th team foul & another two on a technical, but the Crusaders dug back in and cut the halftime deficit to 12 at 38-26 on a buzzer-beating three.
When Lombardi sat, the margin balanced to an extent, as Averill Park was only a +2 in those 12+ minutes. She reentered to start the 3rd, and they exploded forward. Taylor Holohan (Averill Park 2024), who made her mark in the 1st half on the defensive end with her rim protection, opened the 2nd half with a bucket. Wood followed with a make to push it back to 16, and after Turpin got CCHS on the board at the 5:57 mark, Averill Park produced their game-sealing run. Wood & Lange contributed in the books, but it was a stretch heavily fueled at both ends by Lombardi, who spearheaded the press & scored 8 in a 12-0 spurt to run their lead to 54-28. On the down side, Wood went to the bench at the 2:57 mark, just 7 seconds after a Lombardi and-one pushed the lead to 26, with her 4th foul. They wouldn’t need her the rest of the way though, as it remained well out of reach. Despite leaving 9 points at the line – Averill Park shot 6/15 from the stripe in the 3rd quarter alone – they stretched their lead to 28 at 62-34 after three.
Although the result was decided, both sides continued to compete through the waning moments. AP got a heavy dose of Holohan in the books with a few catch & finish buckets off guard drives and paint touches. She gave them 10 in the 4th, which helped them push the margin to as much as 32 on three occasions. Brenna Graber (Catholic Central 2022), who dealt with foul trouble in the 1st half, got into a rhythm on the Crusaders’ end as well. She had 7 in the frame to help balance the margin until starters were pulled on both sides as AP rode to the finish.
Amelia Wood started on a tear, scoring 14 in the 1st quarter & 20 in the 1st half on the way to a 24 point night. She did that in approximately 21 minutes of action, as she sat from the 2:57 mark of the 3rd to the final buzzer. Taylor Holohan added 22 points, impacted the game in a variety of ways, and was credited with a triple-double with 11 rebounds & 12 blocks. Michelina Lombardi contributed 14 points, 10 coming in the 3rd, and her +/- in approximately 18 minutes of action was nearly the amount of the final margin. Catholic Central was led in the books by Navi Turpin, who contributed 14 points while dealing with some foul trouble of her own. Brenna Graber chipped in with 7 of her 11 points in the 4th quarter, and Ella DiBacco hit 3 threes and joined them in double digits with 10.
(2) Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake 53, (3) Queensbury 33
75 Words or Less: Bigger, faster, stronger. In a game between teams that have similar styles, the added physical capabilities go a long way, and they did here as Burnt Hills steadily pulled away in the last three quarters against a solid Queensbury group. Their activity & athleticism made impact in many ways and wore on the 3 seed as the game progressed. Carlie Rzeszotarski dropped 20, Callie Chevalier & Grace O’Connor 14 each with Callie scoring her 1,000th.
THE FULL STORY
If you walked out of the gym after the 1st quarter, you’d probably think we had a nail biter on our hands. The first eight minutes saw a pair of ties and seven lead changes, including five consecutive scoring plays that resulted in a lead change to end the frame. Carlie Rzeszotarski (BH-BL 2022) was active early, scoring their first 5 points, and it was Delaney Donohue (Queensbury 2022) that had 5 of her own in the same stretch. The back-and-forth reached a fever pitch in the final minute of the quarter. Aislynn Dixon (Queensbury 2023) and Grace O’Connor (BH-BL 2023) traded threes to exchange the lead in a 10 second stretch. Kendra Ballard (Queensbury 2023) scored at the 32 second mark to regain the lead, and Rzeszotarski had the answer on a putback before the buzzer to give the white jersey Spartans a 13-12 lead in the battle of the Spartans.
And then the 2nd quarter happened, which set the tone for the rest of the game. It took over 5 minutes for Queensbury to get on the board, which was accomplished with a Ballard bucket, but Burnt Hills didn’t waste time in extending the lead. Rzeszotarski, O’Connor, and Ella Blesi (BH-BL 2023) each scored three points in a 9-0 run, with an O’Connor three pushing their lead to 22-12. The margin floated in the 8-10 range with teams trading baskets until Burnt Hills’ final possession of the half, where Callie Chevalier (BH-BL 2022) got loose and canned a three before the 1st half buzzer to take a 29-17 lead into the locker room.
No big runs in the 3rd quarter, just slow & steady separation for the 2 seed. Chevalier picked up the scoring load out of the locker room, and with that, a milestone was on the horizon. She knocked down a big three to extend their lead to 37-19 with 2:58 left in the 3rd, drilled another one just over a minute later after Queensbury chipped into it with two Donohue scores, then got loose on a cut & finished at the rim with just under a minute left in the 3rd. The layup not only pushed their lead to its largest reach to that point at 19, but it was also her 1,000th career point. After the teams traded free throws in the closing seconds of the quarter, Burnt Hills led 44-25. Brigid Duffy (Queensbury 2022) started the 4th with a three, but Burnt Hills really put it away from there by reeling off the next 9 to push the margin to as much as 25. As was often the case in this game, it was Chevalier, Rzeszotarski, and O’Connor joining forces on the run.
Carlie Rzeszotarski led all scorers with 20 points in the victory, 14 of them coming before halftime as they looked to set the tone by establishing her in the post. Callie Chevalier and Grace O’Connor joined Carlie in double digits with 14 apiece, and Callie joined the 1,000 point club in the process. Queensbury was led in the books by Delaney Donohue, who contributed 11 points.
Next Up: For Catholic Central and Queensbury, their seniors have played their last games at the high school level and it’s off to AAU for the young guns. For Averill Park and Burnt Hills, it’s onto the Section 2 Class A finals. That game will be back at Hudson Valley on Saturday at 2:30.
- The Michelina Lombardi effect. +10 in approximately 3:45 with her on the court in the 1st half. Then she picked up her 2nd foul and went to the bench, where she remained until intermission. Averill Park only went +2 in that stretch. Michelina was back in the lineup to start the 3rd, and they were up 28 after 3. AP eventually won by 27, and they were +26 in the approximately 18 minutes that she played. Does that have everything to do with her? No, of course not. They started strong, got a little complacent in the 2nd quarter, CCHS just hit some shots too, and they came out of the locker room sharper as a unit again. But does that have something to do with her? Absolutely. The Le Moyne bound PG knows how to keep the machine well-oiled and is the glue at both ends. Fully capable of running an offense & getting the ball where it needs to be when it needs to be there, also a capable scorer when needed, tough & disciplined defender, possesses leadership qualities and holds people accountable. They’re just different when she’s in the game, and this game showed it as well as any.
- The Taylor Holohan effect. She didn’t show the full array of skills in this game for Averill Park because it wasn’t that kind of matchup. They were looking to keep her active in the post/around the rim against a smaller Crusader team, so we didn’t see stuff like the perimeter range, but it didn’t matter. She still scored 22 points by making the scoreboard move in 1s and 2s. Rim runs & transition finishes, catch & finish opportunities on drive & dump finds, putbacks on offensive rebounds, free throws. She impacted the game just as much & probably even a little more on the defensive end because even though the masks are finally off, she was still the queen of social distance. Anything within 6 feet of her, she swatted away. 22 points, 11 boards, 12 blocks. What she brings on the offensive end makes her versatile (post play/face-up/stretch game, is somewhere in the 3/stretch or face-up 4 mold at the collegiate level with current skillset). What she brings on the defensive end? Ability to guard multiple positions, mobility to slide & stay in front on the perimeter while being as potent of a rim protector as I’ve covered in 8 years. That makes her a unicorn. Shades of Jenna Zimmerman (South Jefferson/Le Moyne), but actually more advanced at the same age. This is a “no questions asked” Division I level talent.
- That Catholic Central backcourt didn’t fold against the Averill Park heat though. Even when things were tough – and they did get tough – they kept coming. It was an “everything but the finish” 2nd half after a better start in the books for rising 2027 star El’Dior Dobere, but she was getting to her spots all game long. Didn’t matter who was guarding her, she could break her primary defender down to get a paint touch or get to an area where she attracted additional attention. Just missed shots long in the 2nd half after getting the in-between game to work for her beforehand – but again, this is a 7th grader against Averill Park varsity and she got to spots. Ella DiBacco, a 2026 and daughter of coach Audra DiBacco, shot it as confidently & as well as I’ve seen her shoot at the varsity ranks. Three treys, two of them in the 2nd quarter where they made their best push. The youth movement is no joke in Crusader country. Looking forward to seeing how they develop.
- I could talk more about CCHS/AP game – Amelia Wood getting lit early, Navi Turpin battling, the largest free throw attempt discrepancy I’ve seen in my life (24/40 to 3/4 – this is not a joke – this is also not a knock on the refs, it’s just an actual statistic). However, let’s get straight to Burnt Hills!
- It would’ve been tough to get me to walk in the gym for a Burnt Hills girls game my first 3-4 years on this side. Fantastic in other girls’ sports, with volleyball being the headliner, but basketball was not one of them. Then this 2022 class happened. You saw it coming as far back as the 2017-18 season if you were paying attention with the emergence of Callie Chevalier, who was one of the area’s best in that grade. Then Carlie Rzeszotarski popped on the scene not long after, and you had your 1-2 punch to build around. Then the 2023 class followed suit, not necessarily with the basketball-looking athletes (Callie 5’9″, Carlie a 6 footer and both long & rangy) but athletes indeed and capable players in MK Lescault, Ella Blesi, and Grace O’Connor. Stability at the helm is not something they’ve been able to experience – Gary Bynon, best known as the longtime leader of the illustrious volleyball program, is the 3rd varsity basketball coach in the 5 year Callie/Carlie era, if I’m not mistaken. However, he has a squad of proven winners on his hands (albeit in other sports, but I think it matters), and although none of them have went nuts in pursuing the basketball thing – Carlie’s going to Colgate to play volleyball, Callie’s going to Slippery Rock for the same, and out of their starting five, Grace O’Connor is the only one that seemingly might have college basketball in her future compared to other sports – they’ve been able to realize that potential I thought they had a few years back.
- I’d also very quickly like to point out that if Carlie and Callie, D1 & D2 volleyball commits, chose to pursue basketball as their primary instead of volleyball at the beginning of high school, they’d both be full scholarship level players. That just speaks to the level of pure athlete they both are. Schools are lucky to have one like that. Burnt Hills has two in the same class.
- And a congratulations must go to the great Callie Chevalier for scoring her 1000th point in the Burnt Hills victory. I didn’t realize this was on the table for tonight so I didn’t get a video, but on the bright side, I did get an ok-enough picture of the layup, so there’s that. Callie is the one I’ve known the longest in Spartan country – she was deeper down the basketball path at a young age, so I was able to get to know them in the middle school days (she was even at my first ever middle school event). I haven’t seen her quite as much over the last 18-24 months as she went more primarily down the volleyball path, but it doesn’t mean I’m not rooting for her any less – great person, great family, all the good stuff. I saw on the @BHBLAthletics Twitter account that Callie, a Slippery Rock commit for volleyball, also had her 1,000th kill during volleyball season and is now the first in school history to go 1000/1000. Special stuff – I was glad to see the basketball milestone in person.
- I’ve mentioned this a couple times before in these posts, so pardon me as I repeat myself. Nobody had a real season last year, but at least the vast majority of schools had something. Queensbury didn’t even have that. The board shut it down. That sucked for the kids and for the program, but even more so because the previous season’s team, a Class A finalist that lost to Averill Park days before the world shut down, was all 2020s except for two 2022s. I was able to see a small amount of Queensbury representation on the AAU circuit in 2021 – a little bit on Team Fredette and Shea Canavan with them & Havoc – but certainly nothing overwhelming like the Queensbury Triple Threat days. One of those aforementioned 2022s is no longer playing. That means going into this year, Brigid Duffy was their only player with varsity playing experience. And they messed around & won the Foothills again. Their only league loss in 18 games was an early season setback to Amsterdam. They lost both non-league games to this Burnt Hills team and an Albany squad that’s still alive in AA. They dealt with the worst kind of adversity in recent weeks with the sudden passing of Michelle Bennett, a great person & area basketball figure that was a recent addition to the Queensbury coaching staff. I’m sure the players, head coach Megan Bethel, and the Queensbury program at large doesn’t believe in moral victories, but given the circumstances leading up to this season and unfortunately during the season, a trip to the Class A semifinals… not half bad.
- About the Burnt Hills/Queensbury game itself. They’re somewhat similar stylistically – really, watching this year’s BH-BL squad is somewhat reminiscent of the Sullivan/O’Connor/Doin/Hunt/Ballard days at Queensbury in recent years. A lot of the matchup comes down to the three words you hear S&C coaches drop – bigger, faster, stronger. Burnt Hills generally has superior height & length in the frontcourt. Queensbury is fast & athletic, but Burnt Hills is a step quicker & a little more athletic. They were first to the ball in 50/50 situations more often than not. Burnt Hills was active on the glass and although Queensbury battled, they didn’t have the physical capabilities to match it. Offensively, Queensbury struggled to turn the corner on Burnt Hills defenders or even create simple passing angles. If someone did turn the corner, they were usually met by another white jersey. Queensbury particularly had trouble when Burnt Hills went 1-3-1 – Callie up top, MK Lescault underneath, swarming effort everywhere – they had trouble just connecting passes at times. The offense was there for Burnt Hills in the middle quarters with balanced perimeter/post and transition/half-court contributions, but it didn’t even need to be that crisp with how locked in they were on D. Probably just the kind of performance you like to see going into the finals.
- So the results set up Averill Park/Burnt Hills, Round 3. Isn’t this always the way it works in Section 2’s Class A field? Averill Park is always the favorite, and there’s one other team in the section that was in the hunt that could potentially get them if things went right. While I’ve been doing this, it’s been Troy, Amsterdam, and Queensbury in that position, and now Burnt Hills gets their crack. I’m not sure how many times it’s been a Round 3 against a good team for AP in the finals, certainly not with Amsterdam or Queensbury, but it’s shaped up to look like this ever since it was realized that Burnt Hills would retain their best basketball players/athletes. I’ll have deeper thoughts about the matchup in an upcoming article, but long story short, I’ll be looking forward to it.