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Baytania Newman is the emotional leader. Jasmine Odom is the highly touted prospect. Angel Porter is the steady, calming influence. Those are the players who led the South Shore girls’ basketball team all year.
But the one who made the biggest play in the Vikings’ biggest game so far was Akiah Luceus. With 10 seconds left and South Shore up just one point, the back-up sophomore forward made a full-out dive on the wing to strip John F. Kennedy freshman Daisia Acklin and pushed it ahead to Odom.
Luceus was still lying on the floor as Odom got fouled. She made one free throw to seal second-seeded South Shore’s wild, 35-33, win against No. 6 Kennedy on Sunday morning in the PSAL Class AA semifinals at St. John’s University. For the first time since 1991, South Shore will be going to Madison Square Garden for the title game, where it will meet No. 1 and defending 10-time champion Murry Bergtraum.
“She laid it out,” Vikings coach Anwar Gladden said. “She laid it out on the line. That was the play of the game right there.”
Kennedy (20-7) had the ball with 17.1 seconds under the South Shore basket after a Vikings turnover. But Odom blocked senior guard Teara Shaw’s shot and Acklin picked it up. Then Luceus came out of nowhere to knock it away.
“That was a big play for a sophomore like her,” Newman said. “We won because of her.”
Added Luceus: “I wanted to win. I wanted my team to know what it tastes like to go to the Garden.”
South Shore (23-4) came close to not knowing that at all. The Vikings were down, 25-15, with 4:31 left in the third quarter. Then Odom, who didn’t have a point up until then, stepped up huge. She made South Shore’s next three baskets, including a 3-pointer, to pull it within 25-22 with 1:28 left in the third.
“At halftime, my teammates were like ‘C’mon, we need you,’” Odom said.
Newman took over from there. She wasn’t going to let it go without a fight. She drained a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left in the third and opened the fourth with another 3 to give South Shore its first lead since the first quarter, 30-29. Then Porter found her on the break for an easy layup. Newman finished with 18 of the team’s 35 points – more than half in an ugly, drag-it-out, defensive game.
“We ride or die with her, we did all year,” Gladden said. “She’s tremendous. That’s why she’s the captain.”
South Shore was able to gut it out in a game that fit Kennedy’s style. The Knights love to slow the pace and they play great defense – they did a tremendous job all game on that end of the floor. But the Vikings clamped down with their own defense late. JFK didn’t have a field goal in the fourth quarter and Shaw was never able to get off a shot with time running down late.
“We’re complacent offensively – that’s how we’ve been all year,” Kennedy coach O’Neil Glenn said. “We didn’t execute in the halfcourt. This week we worked really hard on that.”
Odom had eight points for South Shore and Shaw had 15 points for Kennedy. No one else had more than five points for the Knights. Senior Darleen McLeod, sophomore Iraida Santiago and Acklin had five apiece. JFK senior Robyn Jenkins, the team’s No. 2 option after Shaw, was held to just three points.
“I guess they had more defense today,” Glenn said.
Kennedy beat South Shore in the quarterfinals last year and the Vikings came in with revenge – and the Garden – on their minds. This come-from-behind win adds yet another accomplishment to an incredible season for South Shore, which finished the regular season as the only PSAL team undefeated in league play.
“They had me tearing – last year, they took what I wanted from me,” Porter said.
Now, South Shore has a chance to make even more history.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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