By Mike Zummo
When the Wallkill girls’ basketball team has a problem, Alex Dembinsky fixes it.
The problem: Zoe Mesuch’s 3-point shots weren’t falling.
The solution: Dembinsky hit four of her own, leading the Panthers with 18 points in a 63-56 win over the Millbrook Blazers on Thursday at SUNY Ulster, securing their second straight Mid-Hudson Athletic League championship.
“This feels great,” Dembinsky said. “We really deserved it. We worked really hard, so it feels amazing.”
The Panthers entered the fourth quarter, leading the Blazers by six points, but after a quick basket by Natalie Fox, who led Millbrook with a game-high 23 points, cut Wallkill’s lead to four points, Dembinsky knocked down the first of two fourth-quarter 3-pointers to restore a 7-point lead.
“(Dembinsky) is the kid who will, when life is not good, she fixes it for me, no matter what it is,” Wallkill coach A.J. Higby said. “It’s just like, ‘oh man, where are going to go?’ She’ll do something.”
She hit the second after Emily Grasseler, who scored 22 points, knocked down two free throws to cut Wallkill’s lead to five points, restoring the Panthers’ lead for the second time in as many minutes.
“The same thing happened at Warwick,” Higby said. “She just steps up when the team isn’t doing what they need to. Bang. And it’s all over. She was ridiculous. She’s always solid. I just wish she had the confidence.”
That doesn’t mean Mesuch didn’t contribute. She may not have had her 3-point shot going, but she made up for it by going inside when she could, racking up 17 points. Grace Mesuch hit four 3-point baskets of her own on her way to 12 points.
“We definitely had to step up,” Dembinsky said. “I think everyone has confidence to know that she’s always there working hard, whether the shots are going in, or not. It definitely helps us keep our confidence up.”
But the Blazers kept coming, putting up four straight points to cut Wallkill’s lead in half, but this time, it was Emma Spindler, whose timely 3-pointer kept them at arm’s length, and short-circuiting any future comeback attempt.
The Panthers held on, and with the sound of the final buzzer, the Panthers were finally able to celebrate their league championship.
“This feels great, especially because it’s the second year in a row, and I’m just proud of my team,” Spindler said.
Winning the league championship was the second step on the Panthers’ journey this season. Their first was winning the MHAL Division I title to gain entrance into the tournament.
Now, they’ll take the third step as they opened the Section 9 Class A tournament on Monday as the No. 2 seed. They were scheduled to host the Monticello Panthers on Monday, with the winner going on to face the winner of Monday’s game between No. 6 Saugerties and No. 3 Goshen on Wednesday in the home gym of the highest seed.
Last week’s win over Millbrook was seen as a good test for the Panthers, heading into the tournament.
“This was definitely a confidence booster for us going into (sectionals) because they are definitely a team that has size over us. All of the teams in our section, we’re kind of level with, so I think it feels really great.”