The Bishop McGann-Mercy girls basketball team found itself between Rocks and a hard place.
The Rocks would be the East Rockaway Rocks. The hard place was having to send Melina Santacroce to the bench less than midway through the third quarter because of foul trouble and then hoping for the best. And then watch uneasily as Santacroce played the entire fourth quarter with four personal fouls.
Santacroce survived foul trouble, but Mercy didn’t survive East Rockaway. Although Santacroce managed to avoid fouling out, Mercy was outplayed, losing the Southeast Region Class C semifinal, 48-42, at Half Hollow Hills West High School.
East Rockaway’s Rachel Graves (nine points) and Juliet McCarthy (15 points) combined to sink four of five free throws in the final 17.9 seconds to secure the victory.
Neither side led by more than five points through the first three quarters. Mercy took its only lead of the second half when a Sarah Penny layup capped a 9-2 Mercy run, making it 35-33. But East Rockaway (10-11) was relentless, closing out the quarter with a putback that Hunter Vertuccio made while she was being fouled and a three-pointer by McCarthy.
Santacroce had picked up her fourth personal foul and headed for the bench with 3 minutes, 32 seconds left in the third quarter. She returned to play the entire fourth quarter, which she opened by making a layup and cutting East Rockaway’s lead to 38-37.
A free throw by Brooke DeGiulio (10 points, 11 rebounds four steals, one block), a jump shot by Rachel O’Hagan and a conventional three-point play by Vertuccio expanded the East Rockaway lead to 44-37. Then Santacroce’s younger sister, Gianna, snapped the net with a three and Melina Santacroce made a putback, pulling Mercy (15-7) to within two points.
East Rockaway seemingly teased Mercy by missing six straight foul shots before Graves snapped that spell with 17.9 seconds to go.
Melina Santacroce finished with 24 points, 17 rebounds, three steals, three blocks and an assist in her final game for Mercy. Gianna Santacroce had nine points.
Mercy fell into a 2-for-16 shooting slump in the second quarter, but thanks to a pair of three-pointers from the corner by Gianna Santacroce, the Monarchs were down at the half by only 24-22. East Rockaway’s Emily Chelius snapped a 22-22 tie on a basket off a delightful touch pass from Kailey Hyland.
Melina Santacroce had 14 points by halftime. DeGiulio had nine for East Rockaway.
The Monarchs took the loss hard. Some of them emerged from the postgame team meeting with tears streaming down their cheeks, clearly in no frame of mind to engage in interviews. The two captains and Mercy’s only seniors, Caryn Nabrizny and Santacroce, hugged each other.
East Rockaway will play Millbrook (19-3) in a regional final Friday at SUNY/New Paltz.
Photo caption: Melina Santacroce put up 24 points, 17 rebounds, three steals, three blocks and an assist in her final game for Bishop McGann-Mercy. (Credit: Garret Meade)