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Eisenberg, Lewis head back to the Garden

While everyone else at Francis Lewis High School seemed to be speaking about how the girls’ basketball team would return to the PSAL Class A championship at Madison Square Garden, Eisenberg wouldn’t even let his...

By Dylan Butler

Mike Eisenberg didn’t want to hear it.

While everyone else at Francis Lewis High School seemed to be speaking about how the girls’ basketball team would return to the PSAL Class A championship at Madison Square Garden, Eisenberg wouldn’t even let his team members utter the words “Madison Square Garden.”

“We would call it the big place with flowers instead,” he said.

But following the Patriots’ 49-41 win over No. 2 Sheepshead Bay in the semifinals Saturday at St. John’s University, that’s all they could talk about.

“We had a lot of pressure on us because a lot of people thought we were destined to go to the Garden,” Eisenberg said. “If we don’t work hard and practice it wouldn’t happen. This is the first day since Oct. 23 we could utter those three magical words.”

Lewis will take on undefeated Murry Bergtraum in the PSAL Class A final Sunday at 2 p.m. The top-seeded Blazers, led by Crystal McFadden’s 19 points, defeated No. 4 Brooklyn Tech, 53-42, in the other semifinal.

The last time Francis Lewis played on the Garden floor was in the 1998 title game against Manhattan Center when Patriots star Lisa Williams was ejected from the game and the building by PSAL Director Thomas Hemans. Following a heated exchange with Hemans, Eisenberg lashed out at the head of the PSAL, cursing him during a live televised interview on MSG.

Francis Lewis went on to lose the game and Eisenberg lost his job, fired as the girls’ basketball coach by the school’s principal, Catherine Kalina, days later. After a long, arduous and at times bitter arbitration hearing, Eisenberg was awarded his job back and returned to coaching the Patriots this year.

“I’m happy I can go back, I’m happy I have the ability to coach the team to a city championship game,” Eisenberg said. “Hopefully it goes better than last time.”

That was all Eisenberg wanted to say about his return to the World’s Most Famous Arena, but his team certainly had plenty of opinions about it.

“We wanted to get back to Madison Square Garden, especially for Coach Eisenberg,” said sophomore point guard Teresa Rozza, who scored a game-high 17 points. “Coaches don’t usually get second chances. He got us here and he’s the brain behind us. He deserves it.”

Eisenberg isn’t the only one with a second chance. For the second straight playoff game, No. 3 Francis Lewis (24-3) had the opportunity to avenge a regular season loss. Last week, the Patriots erased the memories of a 41-point defeat to league foe August Martin with a 66-60 quarterfinal victory.

Sheepshead Bay (19-6) defeated Lewis 77-53 at St. John’s on Jan. 6, thanks mostly to a 30-point performance from Sharks senior guard Nastassia Boucicault. In that game the Patriots pressed, allowing Boucicault several easy baskets in transition.

Lewis learned its lesson in the rematch.

The Patriots were patient defensively as they sat in a 3-2 zone mixed with a box-and-one that severely hampered Boucicault’s ability to get out and run and free herself for open shots. The Sharks’ leading scorer was visibly frustrated as she scored just 11 points on 4-for-19 shooting.

“We wanted to keep her from driving the lane. We concentrated on stopping the fast break,” Eisenberg said. “We knew we had the height advantage. If anyone else beat us, then so be it.”

Despite the defensive work on Boucicault, the Patriots — who led for most of the game — found themselves trailing by one, 41-40, with 43 seconds left in the fourth quarter. That was familiar territory for Rozza.

Down by one with four minutes left in the fourth quarter against Martin, Rozza took her team on her back, scoring the Patriots’ last 16 points in the win. With a trip to the city championship on the line, Rozza again took the ball, this time going end-to-end for a layup to give Lewis a 42-41 lead with 31 seconds left.

Boucicault raced down the court and tried to drive to the hole, but was rejected by sophomore Alanna Adams (seven points, three blocks), who forced a jump ball. Sheepshead Bay retained possession but Latoya Steele was stripped by Lissette Morales (six points, 10 rebounds), who was fouled.

Morales, who along with Diane Ramirez (eight points, three steals) were the only two players from Lewis’ last trip to the Garden, calmly sank the two free throws to put the Patriots ahead, 44-41, with 17 seconds left.

The Sharks had one last chance to tie the game, but Boucicault shot an air ball on a three-point attempt from the top of the key. Rozza followed with two made free throws and sank a 35-footer at the buzzer to clinch the win.

John Adams 46, Beach Channel 38. The top-seeded Spartans (21-3) avenged their lone PSAL Class B loss during the regular season with the eight-point win in the semifinals Sunday at St. John’s.

John Adams, which was led by freshman Dinorah Diaz (14 points), Michelle Tusa (11 points) and Nicola Moore (nine points), will look to repeat as Class B champs when it faces South Shore at Madison Square Garden Sunday at 10 a.m.

Krystal Hill led No. 5 Beach Channel (15-5) with nine points.

South Shore 49, Grover Cleveland 45. The second-seeded Indians led by 10 at the break and five after three quarters, but No. 3 South Shore (24-1) outscored Cleveland (17-7) 18-9 in the fourth quarter to clinch a berth in the PSAL Class B championship at Madison Square Garden Sunday.

Jennifer Barenboim had 23 points for the Indians in the loss.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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