“This team isn’t the most talented. I think there have been more talented teams, but this team is gritty,” said White Plains head coach Michael Merriman. “We battle for every little thing, and that’s how we’ve been able to accomplish what we have.”
The championship didn’t come easy for White Plains.
Trailing 15-7 after one quarter, White Plains rode a 7-1 run midway through the second quarter to tie the game at 16. After both teams turned the ball over, Amber Greenwood put back a Taylor Snellgrove miss to give White Plains its first lead of the game. Miaya Northard answered with a three-point basket to retake the lead for Saks, but Breanna Hunt responded with a layup that tied the game at 20.
Greenwood made the back-end of two free throws to give White Plains (20-8) the advantage, but Saks’ Aliyan Simmons answered with two free throws to retake the lead — a lead it wouldn’t relinquish until late in the fourth quarter.
Saks carried a 42-33 lead into the final quarter before Merriman reiterated to his team what he preaches every day.
“We are big about defense, that’s what I preach every day,” Merriman said. “Our girls are tough, and that’s what we have to rely on.”
His players responded by only allowing four points in the final quarter, giving them a chance to win the game.
“I told them heading into the fourth quarter, that if we don’t play defense, we don’t have a chance, and we played lock down defense,” said Merriman. However, the victory didn’t come without a nerve-racking last 90 seconds.
With Saks clinging to a 44-43 lead, Shelby Wood found her twin sister Carley Wood on a break-away two-on-one fast-break to give White Plains its first lead since the second quarter.
With the lead, Merriman told his team to hold onto the ball, and let the clock run out. One minute ran off the clock before Saks fouled Greenwood, who hit one of two free throws to extend the lead.
Both teams exchanged several possessions of missed free throws, until Aliyah Simmons hit two free throws to tie the game at 46 with 8.9 seconds left. After the free throws, Merriman wanted a timeout to draw up his game plan.
The ball went to Carley Wood, who missed her first shot attempt, but rebounded the ball and was fouled. She stepped to the line and knocked down a pair of free throws, with 4.8 seconds left, giving White Plains the lead for good.
“I believe big-time players make big-time plays, and she made a big play,” Merriman said. “She’s just a freshman, so she’s going to be a good player for us moving forward.”
“Everyone kept telling me to take deep breaths and I just relaxed,” Wood said. “I knew I had it because we shoot free throws all the time.”
Seniors Taylor Snellgrove and Sophie Taylor know this championship is more of a family accomplishment than a résumé builder.
“We were down the whole time, but we knew what we needed to do to win,” Snellgrove said. “We are really dedicated, so we always come prepared to win.”
“It feels great to win because I know we’ve worked really hard for this,” Taylor added. “We’ve really built this program up again, and it’s been hard to do, but it’s very rewarding.
“We just have to keep working hard, and loving each other like a family. Our team loves each other like a family, and we are going to keep it that way.”