---- — NEW PALTZ — For two full halves of basketball, Plattsburgh State gave New Paltz all that it could handle.
In the end, the Cardinals came up just a play or two short and dropped a 63-59 decision to the top-seeded Hawks in a SUNY Athletic Conference women’s basketball semifinal game Friday night.
“We absolutely played our hearts out and left everything we had out on the floor tonight,” Plattsburgh coach Cheryl Cole said. “We battled them the whole way. They just made one or two more plays and got to the free-throw line a few more times than we did, and that won them the game.”
New Paltz (23-3) will now meet No. 2 seed Geneseo (19-6), a 67-51 winner over Oswego in Friday night’s other semifinal, in this afternoon’s championship game.
Plattsburgh (15-12) entered the showdown against New Paltz riding an impressive six-game winning streak. The Cardinals, who had dropped both matchups with the Hawks during the regular season, showed no signs of intimidation and came within a whisker of pulling off the upset.
The game was as closely contested as it could have been throughout the evening, featuring four ties and six lead changes. Plattsburgh trailed by as many as eight points in the second half but battled back to claim a 55-52 advantage with just under two minutes to play.
New Paltz answered and reclaimed the lead by converting on its next three possessions. Malique Fisher got things started on a putback with 1:46 remaining. Alex McCullough then nailed a clutch three with just over a minute left and Michelle Valle seemingly sealed the deal with a layup, making the score 62-56 with just under 30 ticks on the clock.
The Cardinals were far from ready to throw in the towel and staged one final rally. Brittany Marshall made it a one-possession game when she nailed a long three with just over three seconds remaining. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, however, the clock was not an ally at this point as the Hawks retained possession off the ensuing inbounds and then iced the game at the foul line.
The Hawks’ balance on offense, a staple for them throughout the regular season, was once again on display, in Friday night’s contest. Valle led the way with an impressive 14-point, 14-rebound double-double, and Alyssa Gratien, Fisher and McCullough each added 10 points.
A heartbreaking ending was a little hard to digest for a Plattsburgh squad that came up short in its bid for a first-ever appearance in the SUNYAC Tournament championship game.
“It really came down to just a few bounces. that’s how close it was,” Cole said. “It hurts to lose and end your season this way, but I could not be any prouder than I am of this team. Even when we got down eight in the second half, we never cracked, we never folded, battled back and gave ourselves a real chance right to the end.
“This was as gutty a performance as I have seen from this group, and with as young as we are, it really bodes very well for the future of this program.”
One player who stepped up for Plattsburgh was Kathleen Payne. After scoring 26 points versus Oneonta in the opening round of the tournament, she poured in a game-high 23 versus New Paltz.
“KP was just tremendous,” Cole said. “She shot the ball extremely well, did all the little things that sometimes go unnoticed and really had a great tournament.”
Tequilla Lloyd also had a big game, with six points and a game-high 13 rebounds, and Marshall added nine points for Plattsburgh.
New Paltz 63,
Plattsburgh State 59
Marshall 3-1-9; Green 0-0-0; Lloyd 3-0-6; Reifinger 0-0-0; Paul 2-0-4; Payne 8-4-23; Cassidy 2-2-7; Nucaro 0-1-1; Adedapo 3-1-7; Lewis 0-2-2. Totals: 21-11-59.
New Paltz (63)
Gratien 3-2-10; Walker 1-2-5; Harrison 0-3-3; Fisher 2-6-10; Valle 5-4-14; Bryant 1-0-2; Scott 3-3-9; McCullough 3-2-10. Totals: 18-22-63.
Halftime: Plattsburgh 31-30.
3-point goals: Plattsburgh (5), Payne 3, Marshall 2, Cassidy. New Paltz (5), Gratien 2, McCullough 2, Walker.