TROY - Prior to this year, just eight times in New York state history had a team won girls basketball titles in three straight seasons.
Unfortunately for Panama, Heuvelton became the ninth at the expense of the Panthers on Sunday.
Led by two-time Player of the Year Paige McCormick, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 36-13 lead and never looked back en route to a 78-54 victory for their third straight New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D championship at Hudson Valley Community College.
Photo by Deb Bailey
Panama’s Madalyn Bowen puts up a shot over Heuvelton’s Kedan Mack during the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D championship game at Hudson Valley Community College on Sunday morning.
"It's bittersweet with the way we lost because we were never really in the game," Panama coach Jeff Angeletti said. "This is a special group that fought hard. For these girls, I'm so proud of them."
McCormick, who will attend UMass in the fall, finished with 31 points to go along with 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
"Paige made us pay a lot of times, rebounding and keeping balls alive," Angeletti said. "She's a special player."
It seems Panama chose the wrong time to have the best run in school history. The Panthers won Section VI and Far West Regional championships in each of the past three seasons only to have Heuvelton in their way of the ultimate prize once they made the trip east to the Edward F. McDonough Sports Complex.
"That was one of our best performances of the season. We were firing on all cylinders," Heuvelton coach Rob Powers said. "We talked about it all year trying to get to the pinnacle and we achieved that."
Sophomore Madalyn Bowen led Panama with 20 points while freshman Natalie Angeletti added 19, but for all intents and purposes the game was over at halftime when the Bulldogs ran to the locker room with a 43-22 lead.
Paige McCormick and her younger sister, Madison, hit back-to-back buckets to open the game before senior Alexandra Steele hit a 3-pointer to give Heuvelton a quick 9-2 lead. McCormick scored again on the Bulldogs' next possession before converting a three-point play on a putback with 4:20 left.
"The ball is an extension of her hand," Powers said. "She is so practiced and skilled, it's absolutely amazing."
The older McCormick then showed what made her so appealing to the Minutewomen when she blocked a shot, received a breakaway pass and completed a full spin in the lane before finishing for an 18-9 lead with 2:57 left in the first quarter.
"I can't even tell you how special she is. When she was getting recruited last year people asked me if she was DI material and I said 'I don't know, I've never seen one before,'" Powers said. "I think she's put all doubters to rest."
McCormick would finish the opening eight minutes with 13 points as Heuvelton grabbed a 27-13 lead.
"She's a great player and she's going places," Panama senior Nicole Johnson said of McCormick. "She deserves this so much."
Panama turned the ball over on its first six second-quarter possessions and the Bulldogs turned it into a 36-15 lead before McCormick left the game after being assessed a technical foul. The 5-foot-11 senior took a ball to the hoop while being defended by Panama sophomore Maci Johnson midway through the quarter. Johnson, who gives up 6 inches to McCormick, defended the play well and forced McCormick into a wild shot off the side of the backboard. On their way back up the court, one of the three referees determined that McCormick said something that warranted the whistle.
The Panthers scored the next three points with the elder McCormick on the bench, but the rest of the Bulldogs stepped up in her absence, rattling off the next six points to take a 42-18 lead with 1:20 left in the half.
"You've gotta jump on that and we didn't," Coach Angeletti said.
" You've got to take care of the ball in the championship."
"They played the best I've ever seen them play when I was out," McCormick said of her teammates. "It's really comforting for the program to know that, that they got that experience."
Madison McCormick finished with 21 points, five assists and four rebounds; Keden Mack had 11 points; and Alexandra Steele chipped in 9 points and three steals for Heuvelton.
"They get on this stage and they rise up, you could see it. We didn't match their intensity level at all," Coach Angeletti said of the Bulldogs. "Their whole team, the Steele girl, the other McCormick, they were all knocking down shots. It was a good team victory for them."
NOTES: Heuvelton went 32 of 70 from the field, including 2 of 12 from 3-point range, while hitting 12-of-18 free throw attempts. Panama went 23 of 45 from the field, including 3 of 10 from 3-point range, while hitting 5-of-8 free throw attempts. The Panthers turned the ball over 29 times while the Bulldogs turned it over just six times. Natalie Angeletti, Nicole Johnson and Steele joined Paige McCormick, Moriah's McKenzie Sprague and South Kortright's Alexa DuBois on the Class D All-Tournament Team.
Sweeney 1 0 2, Lisciandro 1 0 2, Barmore 0 0 0, Fransen 0 0 0, NAngeletti 8 3 19, EAngeletti 1 0 2, MJohnson 1 0 2, Bowen 8 1 20, NJohnson 3 0 6, Marsh 0 1 1. Totals 23 5 54.
Martin 0 0 0, AJohnson 0 0 0, Steele 4 0 9, Donnely 2 2 6, Cameron 0 0 0, PMcCormick 14 3 31, Streeter 0 0 0, Mack 4 3 11, MMcCormick 8 4 21, Williams 0 0 0. Totals 32 12 78.
Panama 13 9 15 17 - 54
Heuvelton 27 16 16 19 - 78