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Castro’s free throws key Clinton win over Bronx Science

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Everything seemed to be lining up quite nicely for Bronx Science.

The Wolverines were playing at home, they owned a 13-point lead with under a minute to play in the third quarter, and they had two of the premier players in the league — Sarang West and Carolina Lopez — taking care of things on the floor.

For a Bronx Science team that reached the Public School Athletic League quarterfinals last year, it appeared a 3-0 start to their season was all but in the books.

But Clinton, Science’s neighbor from down the block, had other things in mind.

After the Lady Governors closed within 10 points at the end of the third period, they outscored the Wolverines 24-12 in the final quarter. And when Linda Castro sank four free throws in the final 13.9 seconds, the unlikely comeback was complete and upstart Clinton came away with a 59-57 road win.

“We didn’t have any scrimmages this year, so this was just our second game, so we’re coming together,” Clinton head coach Elonza Simon said. “This shows them that we’re headed in the right direction.”

Clinton looked to be headed for defeat as it trailed 40-27 with 47.2 seconds left in the third quarter with the tandem of West and Lopez causing their usual offensive chaos for Science. But then Clinton switched up its defensive look entering the fourth, and it caught the Wolverines off guard.

“We ran stuff we didn’t run in the first half,” Simon said. “We switched our presses up and things like that. We saved them for the second half for situations like this.”

Clinton used a 16-4 run to open the fourth to take a 51-49 lead with 2:22 to play, but Science was able to squeak back in front at 54-53 with 48 seconds left after a pair of free throws by West. But that would be the last lead for Science as Castro’s free throws down the stretch helped the Lady Governors hold on for the win.

“We had a big group talk and we really wanted to win this game,” said Castro, who finished with 13 points. “So we said we have to suck it up and put our all in on the court for the last eight minutes, and that’s what we did.”

Sinking those clutch free throws was something Castro trained for in practice.

“We shoot foul shots every day in practice,” Simon said, “so in a situation like this, we tell them to gather themselves, take a deep breath and knock them down and that’s what she did.”

The win evened Clinton’s early-season record at 1-1, but more importantly, it showed the Lady Governors could well be a key player in the Bronx A South division this season.

“I think we’re showing a lot of potential, especially with a lot of new faces and new talent on the team,” Castro said. “I think we definitely have a chance to push further into the playoffs this year. Beating a team like Bronx Science that reached the quarterfinals last year helps to boost the confidence a little bit, too. But we showed them what we’re about in the fourth quarter.”

Wolverines’ head coach Michael Mei thinks his young team will take a valuable lesson from the loss.

“It’s a little bit of inexperience,” Mei said. “Last year we were heavy with seniors, so you knew when situations got to crunch time that they would be able to keep everyone composed and controlled. This year we have a much younger team, and I think a lot of it is just having situational game awareness.

“But as I told the girls, there is a lot to learn from this game. We just got caught a little bit by surprise.”

Mallelys Reyes Camacho led Clinton with 17 points and Chanel Robinson added 15 in the win. West led Science with a game-high 21 points, while Lopez chipped in with 15.

“I feel that we just got a little too comfortable with that lead,” West said. “We were all happy that we were winning, and we just let it all get to our heads. But I think we just need to get back to practice and get some reps, and I think we’ll be good to go.”

The two teams meet again at Clinton on Jan. 17, and Simon expects his Lady Governors to be right in the mix for the division championship.

“We’re just starting off, but it’s a big win for us,” Simon said. “This win gives them the confidence to know that we can do this.”

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