Volume 20, Number 44 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | MARCH 14 - 20, 2008

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert

I.S. 89’s Shawnee Smith with the ball as M.A.T.’s Patty Rosa defends.

I.S. 89 tops M.A.T. in hard-fought championship

By Sebastian Kahnert

Emotions ran high as two Downtown middle schools faced off in a barnburner for the girls basketball championship last Sunday.

The Manhattan Youth – I.S. 89 Cougars girls beat the Manhattan Academy Of Technology Dragons 41-38 at the Middle School District 2 League Championship game at Hunter College High School.

The gym on East 94th St. quickly reached its maximum capacity of 200, as parents and fellow supporters shuffled in and picked a site on the gray bleachers to support their school.

Both teams played with a high intensity from the tip-off, and despite the fact that the Dragons from Chinatown had lost both games against the Cougars from Battery Park City during the regular season, the M.A.T. girls seemed confident that they wouldn’t come up short-handed this time.

The District 2 Uptown league, in which both middle schools compete, comprises 16 teams from Manhattan, and both Downtown schools, I.S. 89 and M.A.T., finished the season as the league’s first and second best teams respectively.

Early in the first quarter, however, the crowd’s cheering and stomping suddenly muted as Dragons center Shakiira Harewood twisted her ankle and had to leave the game.

After Harewood’s departure, Cougars center Grace Geist dominated the game and was almost unstoppable when driving to the basket, but Dragons point guard Patty Rosa kept the game close with running lay-ups, one three-pointer, and even a half-court shot at the half-time buzzer that barely missed the rim.

After 14 minutes, the first half was over and the Cougars went to the locker room with a 19-14 lead.

In the third quarter, Geist continued to score in the low-post and off rebounds as the Cougars kept pushing the ball down the floor, scoring points off the fast break.

But in the fourth quarter, the Dragons’ Harewood returned to play in her last middle-school game, and her limped walk back onto the court was somewhat reminiscent of Willis Reed’s return in the decisive game seven of the 1970 N.B.A. finals, when the Knicks beat the Lakers.

Harewood had been using time-outs to get loose on a side basket, hitting lay-ups and eagerly awaiting her return.

She came back with her team trailing 33-26 and seemed to have troubles at first getting back into the flow of the game.

With Harewood back in the low-post, the Dragons fired a barrage of treys that missed the mark, and the Cougars started scoring quickly off the fast break, carving out a double-digit lead. But then the Dragons started closing the gap as the game reached its final minutes.

Girls from both teams dove on the court for loose balls and played hard-nosed defense.

During a time-out, the Cougars fans’ relentless cheering was quickly replied with chants for the Dragons from their supporters, creating a noise level that increased while the clock was running down.

With three seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Harewood hit a three-pointer that cut the Cougars’ lead to 41-38, the closest score in the fourth quarter. But time ran out before another basket could be scored.

Cougar girls standing on the sideline immediately ran on the court after the final buzzer, elatedly hugging their teammates while some Dragons girls collapsed on the bench in tears. Both teams showed good sportsmanship shaking hands after the game.

“It was tough game and we had to fight for it,” said Cougars’ Tyeisha Thomas, “but we expected to win, that’s all we’ve been thinking about.”

Sabrina Feinman echoed her teammate’s remarks.

“They played good and we played good,” she said, “but I came to win and we won in the end.”

But the Cougars’ best player, Grace Geist, also acknowledged the Dragons’ effort.

“They are a difficult team to play,” Geist said, “but we had confidence.”

Blake Heppurn, Manhattan Youth ‘s coach, explained that his players weren’t that confident before the tip-off.

“A lot of my players felt sick before the start of the game,” Heppurn said, nestling a golden 30-inch trophy in his arms, “and I told them that’s what it’s all about – to step up for your teammates in the face of adversity.”

After receiving bronze medals, some Dragons players were still in tears while others felt good about a strong season.

“We tried really hard and we gave it our all,” said Dragons’ Ellen Mullan-Jayes, “and I’m happy with that.”

Her teammate Destiny Torres was standing right next to her, proudly wearing a medal around her neck.

“Even though we didn’t win,” Torres said, “we’re winners at heart and my teammates did a great job.”

“The girls played really hard,” said Dragons coach John De Matteo, “and they gave me everything they had and that’s all I could ask for as a coach.”

De Matteo was quick to point out that Harewood’s injury made a big difference.

“Not having Shakiira hurt us a lot, “ he said, “and it would have been a much different ballgame [without her injury].

“It was a game that could have gone either way,” De Matteo said, “and I’m proud of I.S. 89 too.”

The two Downtown teams shook hands after the championship.



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