If ever there was a time when Elmira Notre Dame’s vaunted defense needed to step up, it was entering the final quarter of their season. The Crusaders were on the ropes, having seen a 10-point, third-quarter lead quickly become a two-point deficit.
“I was a little nervous, but I knew we could win it,” said Margie McKinery, a junior guard.
Right she was. The Crusaders showed nerves of steel down the stretch, holding a 16-8 scoring edge over East Rockaway in the last eight minutes to earn the school’s first-ever state girls’ basketball championship. ND won 44-37 in the title contest held March 19 at Hudson Valley Community College near Albany.
The game had been all Crusaders early on, as they led 12-8 after one quarter and 23-16 at halftime. But when the third period ended, they were on the wrong end of a 29-28 score.
Notre Dame rallied with air-tight defense and several clutch free throws down the stretch. The victory enabled the Crusaders to preserve their No. 1 state ranking and finish their spectacular season with a 24-2 record.
Top scorers against East Rockaway were sophomore forward Kate Agan with 13 points, sophomore guard Mallory Lawes with 11 and McKinery with 10. Although McKinery only scored 10 total points in the final two games — she was held scoreless in a March 18 semifinal win over Honeoye — she earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors by getting five assists and four steals against East Rockaway, as well as six rebounds, nine assists and three steals against Honeoye.
“I was honored, especially being on the team with so many great players,” McKinery said of the MVP award.
Defensive dominance was evident throughout the state tournament as ND won 58-30 over Section 3’s West Canada Valley in a March 11 quarterfinal, then 54-27 over Section 5’s Honeoye.
“Defense is a key to us. A lot of our offense is created with defense,” McKinery said.
Agan and Lawes led ND against West Canada Valley with 22 and 16 points, respectively. The same duo carried the Crusaders over Honeoye with 18 and 16 points, respectively.
Notre Dame had earned its way into the state tournament by cruising past Oxford, 57-37, in the Section 4 Class C championship game March 4 behind a 25-point outburst from Lawes.
McKinery said earning the first state title for the program “means a lot.” Considering that such stars as she, Agan and Lawes will return next year, the state tourney MVP is already floating the possibility of another state crown.
“It’s the first one, and hopefully not the last,” McKinery remarked.