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Van Buren, Bowne advance into ‘A’ girls’ quarterfinals

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Mike McClain had to remind himself in the fourth quarter.

"This is not the team you had last year," the Martin Van Buren girls' basketball coach thought to himself.

Those Vee Bees went all the way to the PSAL Class A semifinals. This group is inexperienced with only three returning players who got significant minutes on the squad that lost to eventual champion Thomas Jefferson last season.

They showed it Tuesday night, almost blowing a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter. But No. 7 Van Buren held on for a 74-64 win against No. 10 Robeson in a second-round PSAL Class A playoff game in Queens Village. The Vee Bees will play No. 3 Food and Finance on March 9 in the quarterfinals at Hunter College in Manhattan.

McClain thinks this team is still lacking that killer instinct - and some defensive intensity, too.

"We need to come together and realize our strength and areas of need," the coach said. "I don't see the defensive aggressiveness that I saw in the beginning of the season."

Kamesha Lambright had 28 points and Justinna Boatwright had 22 points, but the two senior forwards' biggest contributions came on the glass. The pair combined for 43 rebounds, including 20 offensive boards.

"That, in itself, was the key," McClain said.

Nickia Witherspoon added 13 points and Aimee Aikens had 10. The Vee Bees controlled the pace of the game, at least until the fourth quarter.

"That was probably the most significant thing we accomplished," McClain said of keeping the tempo.

But Van Buren still wanted to run in the last period with a sizable lead. That's when the inexperience shined through. The Vee Bees hope that's gone by next week.

John Bowne 57, Washington Irving 39. Shakema Johnson's triple-double led No. 6 Bowne to a second-round victory against No. 11 Washington Irving on Tuesday in Flushing. The sophomore guard had 20 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. The Wildcats will play No. 3 Medgar Evers in the quarterfinals of the PSAL Class A playoffs March 9 at Hunter College.

"We should have been up by 20 points right from the get-go," said Bowne coach Bruce Bitterman, whose team had not played since Feb. 7. "The beginning of the game we showed a lot of rustiness."

But it was easily overcome. Jennifer Rios had 10 points and Rebekah Thompson added 10 rebounds. Bitterman hasn't been happy with Thompson's play of late, though. The senior was the Wildcats' best returning player this season and was expected to emerge into a star.

"She's playing scared and tight," Bitterman said. "She had to miss eight layups in the first quarter (against Irving)."

Bowne will need her against Medgar Evers. The Wildcats fell to the Cougars, 55-46, on Jan. 12. Bitterman is hoping his team does to Medgar Evers what it did to Van Buren the second time it played the Vee Bees this season after losing the first.

"We owe them a smacking," the coach said, "like we owed Van Buren."

Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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