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Spencer’s supporting cast steps up for Van Arsdale in quarterfinals win

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Williesha Spencer is the star of the show for the Harry Van Arsdale girls’ basketball team. The relentless 5-foot junior guard finished second in the entire PSAL in scoring this season with 26.7 points per game.

But with Spencer not having her best fourth quarter, the Cardinals role players stepped up. Sophomore Tamira Munize had two key baskets in the fourth with Van Arsdale ahead just one and two points, respectively, junior Latifa Norville gave the Cardinals the lead for good and senior Shavera Thomas had a big 3-point play and the deciding free throws with 6.6 seconds left.

No. 3 Harry Van Arsdale went on to beat No. 6 Environmental Studies, 58-55, in the PSAL Class B quarterfinals Wednesday night at Hunter College in Manhattan. The Cardinals will meet No. 2 Lafayette, which defeated No. 7 Taft, in the semifinals March 18 at CCNY.

“We’re more than a team,” Spencer said. “We’re a family. We stick together. We win together; we lose together.”

The Cardinals refused to lose Wednesday night. After going back and forth most of the game, Environmental Studies (18-3) had a 47-44 lead after a pair of free throws by freshman Alexa Cortez with 7:10 left. That’s when Thomas took over. The forward hit a jumper, then came back down with a 3-point play to give Van Arsdale (21-1) a 49-47 lead with 6:26 left.

The Eagles would take one more lead, 52-51, on a fast-break basket by Cortez on an assist from junior Ashley Leslie. But after a pair of Cardinals defensive stops and a Spencer free throw, Norville grabbed an offensive rebound off Spencer’s missed shot and put it back in to make it 54-52 with 2:24 left.

“We have a script,” Van Arsdale coach Barry Curtis said. “We run our offense through Williesha. The rest of the team has to get involved.”

Studies was unable to tie the game or take the lead with free throws down the stretch and Thomas made two to seal it for the Cardinals.

“Those were the biggest free throws of the season so far,” Curtis said.

Spencer had 24 points, Thomas had 17 points and Munize added 10 for Harry Van Arsdale, which won the PSAL Class B title in 2002. Environmental Studies had four players in double figures: Cortez (13 points), sophomore Francesca Then (13), Leslie (12) and junior Ilene Potts (11), who fouled out with 3:19 left in a major blow to the Eagles.

“The game was in our hands,” Studies coach Eugene Downs said. “That’s all you can ask a team for in a game.”

Downs has plenty to be proud of. Plus, his team doesn’t have a senior. Everyone will be back for a team that came within inches of being in the final four.

“Hopefully, they learned something from this,” Downs said. “I just hope they grew up today.”

The Cardinals sure did – they haven’t played many tight games this season. And they won this one without a monster fourth quarter from Spencer.

“I couldn’t do it without my teammates,” she said.

Spencer is a speed demon with a nice handle, one who can slice through most defenses. She’s more than capable of knocking down 3-pointers, also. Normally, Curtis said, teams have to double- and triple-team her. Studies did that, too, and it worked. It was just the other Cardinals who hurt them.

“Spencer is everything everybody says she is,” Down said.

Two more wins and people will be calling Spencer and her teammates champions.

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