The shrieks, the hugs and the high-fives gave the impression the American Studies girls basketball team had just won Powerball instead of a playoff game. The sounds of pure joy coming from the Senators were the result of tasting a victory they weren’t sure was coming.
Several days before their playoff opener, the Senators lost one of their cornerstone players in Jacqueline Harari, who tore her ACL and was lost for the season in American Studies’ regular-season finale with Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy.
So when the Senators took the court against Harlem Village for a first-round game in the Public School Athletic League playoffs, there were doubts if they had the goods to pull off the win.
They did — hence the shrieks, hugs and high-fives.
Trailing 43-39 with just under four minutes left to play, the Senators outscored Harlem Village 7-1 down the stretch to pull out the emotional 47-44 victory. And perhaps nobody in a Senators uniform was more excited about the win than Ava Grill Dubois, the lone senior on the team. For one game, at least, her career had been extended.
“It’s really amazing,” Grill Dubois said. “I’m so glad we got this win and get to make it to the second round. This team is like my whole life.”
Grill Dubois sank one of two free throws with 1:49 to play to knot the score at 43 before Emily Eljamal closed things out by sinking four free throws in the final 49.8 seconds to seal the deal for the Senators. It was a memorable moment on the free throw line for Grill Dubois.
“It was probably the most stress I’ve ever felt in my life,” she said. “After I missed the first one, I was like, ‘I have to make the second one. I have to tie the game.’ I just kept thinking that. And when I made it, it was the best moment of my season — of my career — on the team. It was probably the most important shot I ever made, and it felt amazing.”
Eljamal finished with 22 points for American Studies, but none were bigger than those late free throws that iced the victory.
“Emily’s been consistent from the line all year,” Senators’ head coach Ryan Hondorf said. “How she does it so smoothly in a game situation like that is tough to know.”
Eljamal was happy with the win, not only to advance in the postseason, but also to get a victory for her fallen teammate.
“We wanted to win this for Harari, Eljamal said. “It wasn’t easy, but we wanted this game, and came out strong and we got it.”
Unfortunately for American Studies, fortune did not shine on the Senators in their second-round matchup with Inwood Academy, which jumped on the Senators right from the start and rolled to a 76-29 victory, ending American Studies’ season.
The Trailblazers built a commanding 43-11 lead at halftime, and the Senators could never recover.
“Inwood Academy was an amazing team,” Hondorf said. “They were fast, athletic and they finished really well. That’s a team, with some work in the offseason, that we could possibly compete with next year.”
After the season-ending loss, Hondorf said his team chose to reflect on the successes the Senators had this year and not on the final defeat.
“In the regular season we put up a really good record,” Hondorf said of the Senators’ 14-4 mark. “The first-round playoff game was the peak of our season. The girls really felt good about that one.”
But the one thing Hondorf and the Senators lamented was losing in the second round of the playoffs again. It’s where their season has ended in each of the past three years.
“It’s going to be a goal of ours next year to kind of push through that second round and get to a point where our girls program hasn’t gotten before,” Hondorf said. “We have everyone minus Ava coming back next year, so our eye is definitely on a high seed and trying to crack through that second round and get into the third and beyond.”
Having arguably the top player in the Bronx B West Division in Eljamal doesn’t exactly hurt the Senators’ chances of a longer postseason run next season.
“She had an amazing year,” Hondorf said. “She put a lot of work into her game in the offseason, and as everyone could see, it definitely paid off. I’m sure we’re going to do the same thing this offseason and see where that takes us.
“But we had a great time this season and the girls really enjoyed it. It was a great season.”