By Aidan Joly
SARATOGA SPRINGS – After the game was close for the first three quarters, Albany girls’ basketball turned it on in the fourth, leading them to a 62-51 triumph in a battle of state-ranked, undefeated teams on Thursday night at Saratoga Springs High School.
For the first 24 minutes of the contest, neither team was able to jump ahead of the other as the biggest lead seen in the first three quarters was a six-point advantage which was held by the Falcons in the first few minutes of the game. The two squads essentially traded basket-for-basket for the larger part of the game, headlined by Saratoga’s Kayla Lahart who had 10 points in the first half, and Albany’s Ahniysha Jackson and Leah Gonzalez, the pair combining for 22 of the Falcons’ 27 points before the break.
After the third quarter ended, the Falcons held a 43-42 lead. From there, they totally changed on both sides of the ball. They led by a slim margin midway through the fourth, leading 48-46 with less than five minutes to play. From there, it was Albany’s game to lose. They went on a 14-2 run in the span of just over four minutes, putting the game away. They included a pair of clutch three-pointers out of the hands of Jenna Citone and Junasia Lanier, who combined for 12 points in the fourth and 25 overall.
“A couple of our other girls stepped up. Jenna Citone comes in and hit a lot of big shots, and then Junasia Lanier on the defensive end and distributing the ball,” Albany head coach Decky Lawson said. “I’m just loving what I’m seeing tonight.”
This fourth quarter rally by Albany came without Jackson, their top scorer. She got her fourth foul of the game late in the third and had to come out of the game for the majority of the fourth quarter. She did come back in with less than two minutes to play and made some free throws, but Albany pulling away and winning it in the fourth makes it all the more impressive that it came without her.
“I thought that would have sort of rallied us a little bit and put us into ‘let’s go get some points’ and see what we can do until she comes back in, but we turned the ball over and they were aggressive,” Saratoga head coach Robin Chudy said.
Jackson finished the night with 16 points despite not playing much of the fourth. She was one of five Falcons, that scored in double digits, the only five Falcons scorers as Citone had 13, Lanier had 12 and Gonzalez finished with 11. For the Blue Streaks, Kerry Flaherty had 13 and Dolly Cairns and Lahart had 10 each.
The win puts Albany at 7-0 on the season, placing them as one of the best teams in the section and a real threat for the rest of the year. They play again on Saturday, taking on Clarkstown South on the road, a 1 p.m. start.
“The feeling is one game at a time. We’re not looking past anyone and we’re just trying to earn some respect,” Lawson said.
Saratoga is now 6-1 on the year. They will head out to central New York after Christmas, facing West Genesee on December 27 at 8 p.m.