By Mike Zummo
It wasn’t until the Wallkill girls’ basketball team got to the bench that the emotion started to overcome them.
It was suddenly over, as the Section 9 champions saw their season end on Saturday afternoon with a 62-49 loss to Section 1 champion Walter Panas in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class A regional final at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh.
It was the second straight time Wallkill saw their season end in the regional finals. They were beaten last year in the regional finals by Section 1 champion Tappan Zee.
“They’re a really good team; we’re a really good team,” Wallkill coach A.J. Higby said. “But their really good beat our really good this year. Our kids ran out of gas. It was obvious they were in that in that good of shape. They’re a ridiculously good team.”
The Panthers won the first quarter, taking a 19-17 lead after the game’s first eight minutes. The Panthers led by a single point, 21-20 with five minutes remaining in the first half.
Then, Walter Panas took a 33-29 lead at halftime before breaking the Panthers in the third quarter.
Cadence Nicholas, who scored a game-high 30 points hit a basket, starting a 7-0 run that gave Walter Panas an 11-point lead.
After Wallkill senior Emma Spindler knocked down a 3-pointer, Panas’ Julia Gallinger hit two straight backsets to open up a 12-point lead. Spindler hit another basket to pull the Panthers to within 10 points, 46-36 at the end of the third quarter.
Spindler, who scored 18 points, hit Wallkill’s only two field goals in the third quarter. Zoe Mesuch, who scored a team-high 20, knocked down a pair of free throws, and that was it for the third quarter.
“(Spindler gave us) everything,” Higby said. “That’s five years and I’ll take her every day. She had a great start and ran out of gas. So, it makes it tough.”
The Panthers showed some more life in the fourth quarter and pulled to within eight points – 52-44 – when Zoe Mesuch grabbed an inbound pass and took it to the hoop for an easy layup.
But Walter Panas added another 7-0 run to take a 13-point lead.
“We had trouble boxing out, and we had too many of the little things that came back to haunt us,” Higby said.
Walter Panas will advance to the NYSPHSAA Class A semifinals where they will face Section 2 champion Averill Park on Friday at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
Wallkill, meanwhile, ends in the same position as last year’s team with most of its team returning. They will lose Spindler, Grace Mesuch and Jazmin Medina.
“We had a great season,” Higby said. “I didn’t really expect them to be this good this year, but we went upstate and didn’t think we were playing that kind of caliber. We did some really good things, but they just needed to play better. You can’t play a subpar game against a team like that.”