(5) SAR Pulls Off Gutsy Upset Against (1) Shalhevet; Head to Tier I Championship
Last year, SAR entered Sarachek as the top seed and lost in the final four. Now, entering Semifinal Sunday as the fifth seed, they looked to rewrite their story. Yet that wouldn’t come easy, as standing in their way were the top-seeded Shalhevet Firehawks, who were seeking to guarantee the trophy would come back to California and set up a Los Angeles v.s. Los Angeles Tier I finals clash at 2:20 PM on Monday, with the reigning champion Valley Torah Wolfpack, who took down the sixth-seeded YULA Panthers 47-37 in the last tilt.
The opening minutes saw Benny Neuwirth take advantage of the Shalhevet defense focusing on Akiva Schanzer, dropping five quick points en route to an early 10-2 SAR lead. Despite the efforts of the Firehawks to finish the first quarter, it was the Sting who wrestled back momentum when Schanzer got on the board with a half-court bank shot, extending his team’s lead to 19-11 and leading announcer Ari Schopf, who was calling his fifth of six games of the afternoon, to say “When we look back at the end of the fourth quarter, that could be the difference in this game.”
Over the subsequent two frames, Neuwerth and Shalhevet star Avi Halpert traded blows, with coach Coleman’s Firehawks finally getting past the Sting’s high zone play schemed by coach RafI Halpert and previously executed to perfection by his players. Led by their star's heroics, Shalhevet pulled to within 41-37 entering the final stanza after once trailing by 10.
A nifty Schanzer layup and a Gabe Sklar scoop and the score would increase the SAR lead back to eight, but a four-point play from Aiden Bitran kept the Firehawks alive. After Schanzer and Halpert exchanged buckets, the Sting found themselves in front 55-50 with one minute remaining, which was when coach Coleman reached into his bag of tricks. Out of the timeout with the defense focused on Halpert, the inbound pass went to Bitran, whose corner three cut the deficit to two. After an SAR turnover, Halpert was fouled and calmly nailed both free throws to even up the contest with 20 seconds remaining. Yet the Sting were the ones with the ball last and would have the last laugh when Halpert was called for a blocking foul on Schanzer, which sent SAR’s star to the charity stripe and despite back-to-back timeout calls from coach Coleman in an attempt to ice him, the senior was unfazed and nailed both, putting his team in front 57-55. Shalhevet would have a final crack at winning it or forcing overtime, but Halpert was called for a travel and Schanzer ran time off the clock by evading Firehawks defenders as he dribbled up the floor to secure the triumphant Sting victory. “It was a great win, but we have one more to go,” Schanzer said postgame, “tomorrow’s our last game ever, so let’s leave it all out there.”
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