Lady Bills fall short in Class B semifinals

PHOTOGRAPHER:
Johnstown’s Jaden Wilson (1) goes up for a shot during Tuesday’s Section II Class B semifinal game against Mekeel Christian Academy at Averill Park High School. (The Leader-Herald/Paul Wager)

AVERILL PARK — Making its first trip to the sectional semifinals since the 2013-14 season, the Johnstown girls basketball team nearly pulled off another postseason upset Tuesday.

The seventh-seeded Lady Bills pushed third-seeded Mekeel Christian Academy to overtime before losing, 67-57, in a Section II Class B semifinal contest at Averill Park High School.

“This was another good girls basketball game that we were part of,” Johnstown coach Tim Derwin said. “We had our chances.”

Eighth-grader Avery Mills led all scorers with 31 points for Mekeel Christian, while Mikyla Mitchell added 19 points.

Jaden Wilson scored 17 points to lead Johnstown, while Abby VandeWalker had 16 points. Anna Lee scored 12 points for the Lady Bills, including her 1,000th career point on a third-quarter 3-pointer. Lee, a junior who has played for the Johnstown varsity since eighth-grade, now has 1,003 career points.

“A lot of people were trying to keep it from me, so I didn’t know, but my dad ended up saying something to one of my friends and I overheard it,. It’s hard not to think about when you’re in the game. You just want to focus and get the job done, but [it] was lingering a little bit,” Lee said. “I’ve worked pretty much my whole life for it and to just be able to get it here at the semifinals, I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. They are the ones who drive me every day to be a better basketball player.”

After posting a fourth-quarter rally to upset second-seeded Fonda-Fultonville in last Wednesday’s quarterfinals, Johnstown faced another big deficit Tuesday.

The Lady Bills had 10 turnovers in the first quarter and were just 3-for-16 from the floor in falling behind 21-11 to the Lions after eight minutes of play.

Despite his team’s early lead, Mekeel Christian coach Kelsey Collins was far from comfortable.

“We knew going into the game that Johnstown would not quit,” he said. “We saw them comeback from a 10-point deficit against Fonda last week, so we knew we were going to have to battle the whole way.”

Mills scored 11 of her team’s first-quarter points, while Maraya Davis connected on a pair of 3-pointers to finish with six points in the first eight minutes.

Mekeel Christian, which posted a 48-34 win over the Lady Bills in last year’s quarterfinals, extended its lead to 13 points at 30-17 after outscoring Johnstown 9-6 to open the second quarter.

Down, but not out, the Lady Bills began clawing their way back into the game over the final four minutes of the first half.

Johnstown ended the second quarter with a 10-4 run to trail 34-27 at the break.

In the second half, the Lady Bills capitalized on a slow start by Mekeel Christian to pull within two points before a last basket by Mills made it 44-40 heading into the final quarter.

Johnstown finally pulled even for the first time since the game was 0-0, starting the final quarter with a 3-pointer by Wilson and tying the game one free throw by Kanako Sasaki.

The Lions again pulled away getting five straight points to make it 49-44.

The Lady Bills answered one more time using a 10-4 burst to take their first lead of the night at 54-53 with 16.6 seconds to play when Wilson converted one of her two free throws after VandeWalker knotted the game at 53-53 with a 3-pointer with 40.1 seconds remaining.

Mekeel Christian tied the game at 54-54 when Mitchell hit one of two free throws with 11.8 seconds to play.

Johnstown had a couple looks come up short in the final 10 seconds as the game headed to overtime.

“We were playing uphill the whole way,” Derwin said. “We missed some bunnies on that last little scramble there, but that’s the way it is. It’s a testament to their character to battle, battle, they never quit. They could have folded early, they had that look in their face, but they didn’t.”

Instead, the Lady Bills headed into overtime looking to complete another comeback win.

“I think we felt like we could push it over the top in overtime,” Derwin said. “We came out and scored the first point, and then it spiraled the other way.”

Wilson hit one of two free throws to five Johnstown a 55-54 lead 10 seconds into OT, but Johnstown would score just two more points — both on free throws — the rest of the way.

Mills and Mitchell combined to score all 13 of the Lions’ points in overtime as Mitchell had eight and Mills five as Mekeel Christian was finally able to put Johnstown away.

“A win like this builds character,” Collins said. “I’m proud of my team’s effort tonight.”

Mekeel Christian (21-2 overall) advances to face defending Section II Class B champion Mechanicville in the championship game Saturday at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy at 12:45 p.m. The fourth-seeded Red Raiders notched a 53-48 victory over top-seeded Schalmont in their semifinal contest Tuesday.

Charli Goverski scored 20 points to lead Mechanicville. Siena Hallberg finished with 17 points to lead Schalmont, while Karissa Antoine added 14 points.

Mechanicville defeated Mekeel Christian, 62-38 in last year’s semifinals.

“It’s going to be a good game,” Collins said. “Whoever wants it more is going to come out on top.”

Johnstown finished its season with a 13-10 overall record.

“With everybody coming back, except Amber [Tesi], I think we can make another run at it next year,” Derwin said.

Lee agreed with her coach’s assessment.

“They just got away from us, which really stinks because we wanted to go so bad [to HVCC], we have so much heart,” Lee said. “Just to see it end in overtime like that, it stinks, but we’re ready to bring it next year.”

Mekeel Christian Academy 67, Johnstown 57, OT

Johnstown 11 16 13 14 3 — 57

Mekeel Christian 21 13 10 10 13 — 67

Johnstown

Wilson 5-5-17, Lee 4-1-12, K. Sasaki 2-4-8, VandeWalker 5-2-16, Tesi 1-1-3, Chest 1-0-3. Totals 17-13-57.

Mekeel Christian

Mills 12-5-31, M. Mitchell 6-6-19, Ballard 0-3-3, Davis 1-3-6, P. Mitchell 4-0-8. Totals 23-17-67.

3-point goals: Mekeel Christian 4 (Mills 2, M. Mitchell, Davis); Johnstown 10 (VandeWalker 4, Lee 3, Wilson 2, Chest).

By Paul Wager

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