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Rested Clarke enters stretch run

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The Clarke girls’ basketball team has shown that last year’s strong finish was no fluke.

The Lady Rams’ 7-1 start has already vaulted them into contention for a second straight postseason berth and their 8-4 overall record leaves them one victory shy of the entire total of the 2018-19 campaign. That year, Clarke won four of its final six games for its first playoff qualifier since 2004.

Even though the team has slipped a little of late with three losses in its last four games, head coach Shaun Fean is still happy about his squad’s second-place standing in a logjammed Conference A5 entering the second half of the season.

“We’re feeling pretty good,” he said. “Obviously, we got off to a very hot start and I think they way we finished last year really did carry over into this year and we had a nice run to start. We still have a lot of work to do, but all of the goals that we set four ourselves are certainly still in front of us.”

All three of Clarke’s conference wins have come on the road, including a 59-53 victory at West Hempstead on Jan. 6 that Fean felt was the team’s most satisfying victory thus far. The girls trailed by five after the first quarter and by one point through three stanzas, but outscored the “other” Lady Rams 19-12 in the fourth to seal the win.

Junior Sara Bongiorno had 16 points and 13 rebounds and senior leading scorer Graceann Murphy finished with 11 points and 10 assists that day to lead Clarke.

“It wasn’t a clean game for us,” he recalled. “We kept chopping and chopping and believed in each other and believed we were going to win. I never saw us get down ourselves. I think we won that game because of what happened last year.”

Clarke was poised for its second four-game winning streak two days later against Seaford, but got outscored 22-9 in the third quarter that resulted in a 51-34 loss. It played without Murphy the following day against Friends Academy and was edged 37-34 before recovering to top Mineola 47-28 on Jan. 15. The Lady Rams entered their weeklong break with a 60-34 setback to undefeated Locust Valley last Friday night.

“That [Seaford] game got into our heads a little bit and we lost our aggressiveness,” Fean said.

Murphy is averaging 12.5 points, bolstered by two games of at least 20 points, and junior Emily Famillette is second at 10, which is almost double her output from last year (5.7). Sophomore Lauren Genna has also showed steady improvement at 8.8 points per contest, including 23 against Glen Cove Dec. 6, during which she drilled seven 3-pointers.

Fean is hoping the break will allow his team to “recalibrate ourselves.” The Lady Rams have three important conference games to start the home stretch, starting at Island Trees this Saturday and continuing at home against Valley Stream South and West Hempstead.