By MIKE SMITH
Rye fans who traveled to the Westchester County Center were in for something of a surprise on Tuesday, March 1, when the Garnets’ starting five was announced and Katie Popp wasn’t in it. But despite not having the junior standout at 100 percent, the Garnets hardly missed a beat, blasting Saugerties to win the regional semifinal game 57-37 in impressive fashion.
Popp, who led the Garnets to their first sectional championship in 11 years last weekend, was battling a stomach bug that threatened to keep her out of action on Tuesday, but provided a lift off the bench, scoring 16 points against an overmatched Sawyers squad. Senior point guard Taylor Maurer, who picked up the slack in Popp’s early-game absence, scored nine of the Garnets’ first 16 points on the night. According to Maurer, the Garnets didn’t have a real idea of how much the ailing Popp would be able to contribute and had to adjust their expectations accordingly.
“We didn’t know what was happening until we got on the bus to come to the game,” Maurer said. “But we knew that we were all going to have to pick up a lot of the slack, offensively and that we were going to have to step up and make plays.”
Madeline Eck, Rye’s other 1,000-point scorer, finished with a game-high 23 points and helped the Garnets take control in the second quarter, as they outscored the Sawyers 15-3 to open a 28-13 lead by halftime.
“We thought it was going to be closer,” Eck said. “But it was still a tough game, especially in that first quarter.”
Maurer attributes the Garnets’ success to a good game plan put in place by head coach Dennis Hurlie during the team’s Monday practice.
“We had scouted them, so we knew what holes in their defense we could attack,” Maurer said. “Everyone just stepped up and contributed.”
With the win, the Garnets (21-4) advance to the regional finals, where they will take on Vestal at SUNY Cortland on March 5. The winner earns a berth in the New York State Semifinals, which will be played at Hudson Valley Community College.
According to Maurer, Rye’s performance against Saugerties should provide a blueprint for success over length of the push towards states.
“I think we proved that we have a lot of weapons and that we’re a versatile team,” Maurer said. “Any one of our five players on the court can make plays, and that means a lot.”