NEW ROCHELLE, NY --For most of the season, the Rye Garnets were the forgotten team in Class A.
Some thought Albertus Magnus would repeat as champions. Others thought it would be Peekskill, who came into the Section 1 tournament with the top player in the bracket. And if it wasn’t the two powerhouses, then the rest thought it would certainly be Ursuline, the number one overall seed who was controversially brought down to Class A midway through the year.
On Sunday evening, behind its best performance of the season, Rye made sure that no one would forget it any time soon.
The third-seeded Garnets knocked off Ursuline 63-47, taking their second Section 1 title in school history and their first since 2004, when Rye was in Class B. Junior star Katie Popp took home the tournament MVP, posting 27 points, including the 1,000th of her career on a free throw in the fourth quarter.
“(Our girls) were definitely looking forward to the challenge,” Rye coach Dennis Hurlie said. “We’ve been playing great team defense and they were up to the challenge.”
The Rye-Ursuline final didn’t just present two of the region’s top teams, it also gave us an opportunity to see a few outstanding individual matchups. Popp and Korina Guerra are two of the best guards in Section 1, while Madeline Eck and Kate McLoughlin are among the most versatile forwards around.
“Korina and Kate are both really, really great players,” Popp said. “They match up well with (Eck) and I. What we did well was shut them down on defense. We kept playing them hard and never doubted that we were going to win.”
Rye came out and took an early lead, winning the first quarter 15-8. Popp and Eck had it going right away and the Garnets got a nice boost from Ali Imam, who made an early impact in the paint.
Ursuline, a team that doesn’t quit, responded right back in the second. Guerra and McLoughlin each scored six in the second quarter and the Koalas won the period 15-8 to tie the game at 23-23 at the half.
“I thought we did well in the first half but we had some defensive breakdowns,” Hurlie said. “We were a little unsound on a few positions and took a couple of fouls we didn’t need to but overall we were in a good place.”
Rye came out of the break on a mission. The Garnets had previously held Pearl River scoreless in the entire fourth quarter of their semifinal game and snapped back into that defensive form in the third quarter of the final. Ursuline was held to four points in the third quarter and went just 2-for-6 from the line in period.
“I knew that our team was not going to lose today,” said Popp, who also had seven rebounds and five assists. “I had to do my part to help us get the win and that’s what I did,”
Not only was the Rye defense on lockdown in the third, their offense was also on fire. Popp went off for 13 points in the period as the Garnets outscored Ursuline 25-4 in the third quarter.
“Katie is an outstanding player and you don’t get here or have a chance to play in a game like this without great players,” Hurlie said. “The fact that she got her 1,000th point with games left in her junior year says a lot about her. Katie has worked hard to get where she’s at and she deserves it.”
Eck added 14 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and dished four assists in the win for Rye, which will play the Section 9 champion Tuesday at the County Center at 6 p.m. in the New York State Class A Regional Semifinals. Popp and Eck were named to the All-Tournament team, along with McLoughlin and Casey Friend from Ursuline. McLoughlin posted 19 points and nine rebounds while Korina Guerra had 13 points. Friend finished with seven.