BY BILL PALMER
ALBANY — Two years ago, Gabby Giacone and her Bethlehem teammates suffered through a nightmarish Class AA girls’ basketball final at the Times Union Center.
The senior standout made sure that didn’t happen again Tuesday night.
Giacone scored 13 points in the first quarter, giving her team a lead it would never relinquish in a 55-46 win over Shenendehowa.
Bethlehem, which will play Cicero/North Syracuse in Section in Saturday’s state quarterfinal, also prevented Shenendehowa from becoming the first team to win consecutive large-school titles since Colonie did it in 2001.
“We were young, we were immature two years ago,” said Giacone, who finished with 25 points and nine rebounds and was named tourney MVP. “We’ve been playing together as a team since we were 12. I think, to be honest, this was destined to happen.
“We won championships in travel league, and that’s how we wanted finish the year.”
“Gabby is the most dominant player in the section,” said Bethlehem coach Matt Bixby. “She can take over stretches of possession better than any player in the area, and definitely better than any player that I’ve ever coached.
“I knew she was going to come out intense and pretty fired up. She set the tone right away, and her teammates responded.”
“She came out in that first quarter and got basket after basket and the momentum carried us,” said Jenna Giacone, the only underclassman in the Lady Eagles’s starting five, and an all-tourney selection after an 18-point final. “We didn’t have to play from behind.”
“Gabby just willed her team to victory. It started early on,” said Shenendehowa coach Joe Murphy.
“Every game we played them, she killed us. She did it tonight again. We don’t have a kid to match her physicality, We just don’t. The difference was Gabby. That’s what it came down to.”
Giacone’s effort gave No. 2 seed Bethlehem an 18-13 lead after the first quarter. Jenna Giacone hit two big three-pointers to give the Suburban Council South champs a 29-15 edge in the second before the half ended at 31-19.
“She made those threes, then she started getting to the free-throw line,” said Bixby. “We got a very strong performance out of her.”
Bethlehem’s defense was also strong, holding Shenendehowa to 38 percent (17-for-45, 2-for-14 on threes) shooting.
Gabby Giacone was guarding 2014 league and Class AA MVP Carly Boland most of the game, holding her to eight points on 4-for-of 13 shooting. Sophomore forward Sydney Brown led Shenendehowa with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Point guard Erin Hulbert, the lone senior starter, finished with 10 points.
“They played in your face, man-to-man defense, and we didn’t adjust to it,” said Murphy, whose overall SC champions finished 20-2. “In the sectional final, they’re not going to call tic-tac fouls. You’ve got to play through it. We didn’t.”
Shenendehowa beat Bethlehem very early in the regular season. Bixby saw a different team in the final.
“We needed to be more aggressive. I thought in that first game we were soft, we were passive,” he said. “Our big goal was to get Shen out of their 1-3-1 tonight. Once we got them out of the 1-3-1, that gave us even more energy. We knew we could play half-court. Once we got out and attacked, I think we just built on that.”
Shenendehowa fell behind by as much as 18 points in the third period before closing to within seven, 53-46, in the final minutes.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well and we didn’t shoot well from the line [10-for-22]. That didn’t help, either,” said Murphy. “We made a little run at the end, but we ran out of time.
“It was one of those nights, but you have to credit Bethlehem. They came out like a senior-laden team that wanted to win, that had to win. It was their last chance to win a Section II final.”
G.Giacone 12-1-25, Hughes 0-0-0, O’Donnell 0-0-0, J.Giacone 6-4-18, Rickert 1-1-3, Wander 1-4-7, Kirby 1-0-2. Totals: 21-10-55.
Brown 4-4-12, Quinn 1-1-3, Sangare 1-0-3, Boland 4-0-8, Hulbert 3-3-10, O’Brien 2-1-5, Tudor 2-1-5. Totals: 17-10-46.
Bethlehem 18 13 15 9 — 55
Shenendehowa 11 8 12 15 — 46
Three-point goals: J.Giacone 2, Wander, Hulbert, Sangare.