Ryan Ramraj put the blame on himself.
“I didn’t know this team at all,” the Aquinas girls’ basketball coach said. “I didn’t know how to prepare my team. … By the time I figured it out, we were climbing out of a hole the whole game.”
The Lady Bears quickly went down seven points in the first quarter to Mt. Mercy Academy of Buffalo and at numerous times it appeared like the Magic were going to pull away.
“I felt like every time we got a basket or two, they’d come back with another basket,” junior guard Sade Jackson said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump that we need to get over.”
Jackson did all she could to keep it from happening, scoring 14 points. But a scoring drought over the third and fourth quarters proved too much to overcome. Aquinas, which won just four games a season ago, fell, 44-35, to Mt. Mercy in the CHSAA Class B girls’ basketball state final at Christ the King Sunday. A win would have sent the Bronx school to Glens Fall for the first time since 2006.
“We were sad, but had to suck it back up,” Jackson said. “Nobody thought we’d get as far as we did and we did.”
Jackson took care of things before halftime, scoring 10 of her points, mostly on aggressive drives to the basket. She added five steal and three blocks.
“She is a superstar,” Ramraj said. “I’ve always told her that from first game of the season.”
Senior Samantha Babb added: “She’s going to go far.”
The Lady Bears never led in the game, but trailed just 24-22 with 4:45 left in the third quarter after a put back by Alicia Mayers. Then they went cold. The Magic (23-6) went on a 9-0 run as Aquinas (20-7) went without a point until a Babb (eight points) basket with 4:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. It got as close as 37-30 on a Babb jumper with 1:00 left, but it was too late. Melissa Graham led the Magic with 23 points and Meg Recktenwald added eight.
“It was very frustrating, but we tried to stick in it,” Jackson said. “We didn’t give up.”
Just as they haven’t all season. Aquinas was just the fifth seed in the Archdiocesan tournament, which it eventually won. A trip to the semifinals earned in a spot in the state playoffs, where the Bears beat both Blessed Sacrament and previously undefeated St. John’s Prep just to make the final. The experience has changed the goals for next season.
“Nothing below this should be accepted next year” Jackson said. “We got this far. We should just get better.”