High school girls basketball: Hammond looks to complete state title crusade

Mar. 16—Moments after her Hammond defeated Poland 63-42 for a state quarterfinal victory and the right to advance to the Class D final four of the state girls basketball tournament, Red Devils coach Alyssa Crosby was asked for her first reaction.

The former Hammond standout flashed a huge smile and said with a laugh, "It's about time."

Make that a long time.

In 2020 the Red Devils were preparing for a state quarterfinal game when the COVID-19 pandemic sent the nation into a lockdown and devastated basketball teams that saw their dreams of state titles vanish.

The pandemic prevented postseason play in 2021, and then in the Section 10 Tournament of 2022, top-seeded Hammond was upset by Heuvelton.

Hammond junior Landree Kenyon was honored as the Northern Athletic Conference West Division MVP after the Red Devils impressively ran the table in what was arguably one of strongest NAC West fields ever. She was an eighth-grader on the 2020 team, which had its state title hopes pulled out from under them.

"We don't talk about that much but I really wanted to win today for my sister Avery (2021 Hammond graduate) because she never got to play in the final four (basketball)," Kenyon said after scoring 28 pints and grabbing 16 rebounds in the regional final against Poland. "And I wanted to win for my team."

Now she wants to join another older sister, Brittany, who played a lead role in Hammond's state title teams in 2007 and 2008.

The first step will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday at Hudson Valley Community College against Section 6 champion Panama, which was also preparing for a regional final of its own when the pandemic hit in 2020.

Panama senior standout Mandy Brink was a freshman when normal life was put on hold. Last Saturday, the Panthers' senior captain scored 28 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, picked up four steals and handed out four assists in a win over Keshequa, 63-44.

She has used that three-year-old disappointment as a motivating factor.

"I could not let that season go because it was just so devastating," Brink said afterward. "Being a senior, leading my team and being a captain, it feels so good. I'm so glad that we all get this opportunity."

The Panthers will also look to erase any lingering disappointment from three straight losses in the wake of Section 10 Heuvelton's run to three straight state titles 2015 through 2017.

In the game against Keshequa, the Panthers' Kylie Morgan added seven points and a team-high 15 rebounds, Hannah Schauman grabbed five rebounds and Kaitlyn Horton and Lilly Odell each had five rebounds.

Hammond (19-1) enters the game ranked first in the NYS Sportswriters Class D poll and 20-4 Panama is second and riding a 15-game winning streak. Hammond is unbeaten against Class D teams, suffering its only loss to Class B champion Gouverneur in the Section 10 Overall Championship.

Saturday's other semifinal game will see eighth-ranked Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons (15-7) of Section 2 facing third-ranked Oxford Academy (11-3) of Section 4. Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons bested Section 7's Seton Catholic 37-30, and Oxford downed Section 11's Smithtown Christian 70-44.

The Red Devils will look to contain Brink in the same way they defended Poland's Logan Cookinham, who led the Tornadoes in scoring, rebounding, steals and assists. Cookinham tallied 12 points but suffered a game-ending injury in the third quarter with Hammond in control of a 12-point lead.

"Most of their offense comes from one girl (Mandy Brink) and we have been working to keep her contained," Crosby said. "We have been practicing at 6 a.m. to get the girls ready for the early game on Saturday."

Kenyon, who has averaged 23 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks per game this season, believes that her team is focused and ready.

"It has been a long time and it feels amazing to win this game and go to the final four," Kenyon said after last week's win. "Our team played great today. We hit the boards, played defense and got out and ran. We played hard. We are really playing well and we are ready for the final four."

The Devils have featured balanced scoring throughout the season but it was defensive ace and tempo setter Zoe Cunningham who hit one of the biggest shots of the game. Cunningham banked home a 3-pointer to give the Devils an 11-4 lead with 1:24 left in the first quarter and started an 11-0 run en route to a 19-5 lead early in the second quarter.

"Zoey hit a big shot. It got us going," Kenyon said.

Ava Howie emerged as the Devils' primary fastbreak finisher and scored 11 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter. Cunningham finished with seven points and six assists and Sadey Sprabary delivered six points, 10 rebounds and four steals. Hailey Manning grabbed five rebounds and defensively played a key role in traps on the press.