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Hopkins, Lafayette win first PSAL ‘B’ championship

Essence Hopkins became a film student this week. The senior guard on the Lafayette girls’ basketball team had been thinking about the Patriots’ loss to Goldstein on Feb. 12 for a long time and she wanted to see exactly what happened.

So, Hopkins popped the video and watched the game this week. Over. And over. And over.

“I watched that everyday this week,” she said.

There was no way Hopkins was going to let the same thing happen again. Despite nursing a sore throat and stomach issues – she threw up at halftime – Hopkins had 31 points and 10 rebounds to lead No. 2 Lafayette to a 57-28 rout of top-seed Goldstein on Sunday in the PSAL Class B championship game at Long Island University in Brooklyn.

“Essence took control,” Patriots senior guard Jodyann Pitt said. “She got through it. She was aggressive – like, ‘gimme the ball!’”

The biggest thing she noticed from the repeated viewings of the video was that Lafayette’s defense was porous. The Patriots weren’t getting out on shooters and they weren’t helping, either. Defense and creating turnovers means so much to Lafayette’s offense and Hopkins put most of the fault on herself.

“I wasn’t rotating on defense,” she said.

There was no such problem Sunday. Goldstein (19-2) cut Lafayette’s lead to 17-16 with 3:57 left in the second quarter on a Chrissy McKeever basket. But then the Patriots, using their pressure defense and causing all kinds of chaos, went on a 21-2 run stretching into the third quarter. The Dolphins, who were cold from the outside, never recovered.

“Our offense always comes with our defense,” Lafayette coach Kareem Benson said.

Pitt had six points and five assists, including the highlight reel play of the day. Near the end of the second quarter, the tiny point guard broke down three defenders with her dribble and found her best friend, senior Danesha Williams, underneath for an easy layup. Williams, one of the team’s leaders, had six points, too, and was a warrior on the offensive glass, setting up multiple second-chance opportunities.

“Danesha is our captain,” Benson said. “Her hunger is unreal. All she wants to do is play defense and rebound.”

The Patriots will now meet Long Island Lutheran in the state Federation Class B girls’ basketball semifinals Friday morning at 10 a.m. in Glens Falls, N.Y.

It has been an incredible ride for them. The group, coached by Benson, started at the HS of Sports Management, practicing in a tiny gym with portable rims. It was just a developmental junior varsity team. But when Lafayette Educational Complex broke up into six different schools last year, the HS of Sports Management moved into its building. Now Benson has girls from all six of those schools on his roster and they practice inside Lafayette’s gym.

Lafayette, known for its baseball legacy, is closing after next year and the Patriots wanted to win a championship for those who have worked at the school. They had incredible support Sunday morning at LIU. The chants of “LEC! LEC! LEC!” could probably be heard all the way to nearby St. Francis College.

“They were so welcoming to us,” Benson said. “We wanted to continue their legacy. In one more year it’s closing, that’s why we definitely want to hang up a banner.”

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