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Kearney emerges onto city scene with Jeff win

Taylor Raccuglia and Sam Retas were sitting together in the stands at Bishop Ford last Wednesday afternoon when their Bishop Kearney coach, Rocco Sellitto, came walking toward them, shaking his head. The two teammates were wondering why Banneker, the team they were supposed to face, was warming up for another opponent.

“Oh God,” Raccuglia said they thought. “The game is canceled.”

Not quite. The schedule was changed and, instead of playing Banneker, Kearney was going to face another PSAL team from Brooklyn: two-time league semifinalist Thomas Jefferson, led by Alicia Cropper, the highest rated senior in New York City, and fellow Providence-bound guard Danielle Pearson.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” Raccuglia said.

As it turned out, though, Jefferson was the team leaving the gym in shock after Kearney’s 66-52 win at the Big Apple Recruiting Christmas Classic in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. The Tigers were ahead, 32-20, at halftime and never looked back.

In a way, the impressive victory puts Kearney (7-2), ranked No. 10 in the CHSAA by The Post, on the map. It’s by far the Tigers’ best win of the season thus far with Jefferson (4-4) coming in ranked fifth in the PSAL.

“I’m kind of happy we played Jefferson,” Raccuglia said. “It was a good test for us.”

Kearney has been in the background in wild CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Division I. Bishop Ford gave Christ the King just its second league loss in 10 years earlier this month and, a week later, St. Francis Prep earned its first league victory in two seasons by beating Ford. Archbishop Molloy almost beat Bergtraum on Monday and Mary Louis throttled PSAL power South Shore on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have quietly put together a fine start and look much improved from an up and down 2008-09 season.

“We’re just under the radar,” Sellitto said. “No one expects us to do anything.”

But it seems like Kearney is capable of plenty. The Tigers used a pack-it-in-zone to thwart the penetration of Cropper and Pearson. Sellitto’s plan was to let Cropper get her points and contain everyone else and it worked. Cropper finished with 32 and no one else was in double figures.

Jefferson was coming off two tough losses — to South Kingstown (R.I.) and Largo (Md.) — and looked lethargic at times. The Orange Wave were supposed to play St. Michael Academy, ranked No. 15 in the country by USA Today and No. 1 in New York City by The Post, that Wednesday, but both Jefferson assistant Dinero Young and St. Mike’s coach Apache Paschall agreed to push the game back, because Jefferson is shorthanded with girls academically ineligible.

“We just weren’t in sync today,” Young said. “You can’t explain it. Nobody was on the same page. ... After two heartbreaking losses like that, it takes its toll.”

Kearney was the beneficiary. Sam Retas has been having as good of an early season as anyone in the city, and she starred again with 28 points and 13 rebounds against Jefferson. Raccuglia had 17 points, Meaghan McGoorty had nine points %u2013 and a few of her trademark zinging one-handed outlet passes %u2013 and Jaclyn Grasso chipped in 11 assists in a complete team effort.

Sellitto, who likes his team to get out in transition, said the offense is more open this season than it was last year under former coach Cathy Crockett and it certainly doesn’t hurt that 10 of his girls are good shooters.

“The girls are not constrained,” Sellitto said. “They have a little more freedom. Last year, they were more structured.”

The Tigers also get an A-plus for handling adversity, having to deal with playing a top-tier team on just hours notice.

“I wasn’t happy about it,” Sellitto said. “Mentally, the team was set for a certain thing.”

Instead, they started changing people’s minds.

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