Take Five Bows
pblackwell, Sat, March 7th, 2009
The hint of spring outside coincided with the pure heat of championship competition inside Utica Memorial Auditorium, where five Section III girls basketball champions accepted their crowns.
The winners ranged from a large school that waited 24 years to get back on top to a pair of 2008 runners-up that took the final step to the top for the first time, plus a tough bunch of Cobras and a defending champion that brought an undefeated opponent down.
It started in Class AA, with Cicero-North Syracuse getting its first title since 1985 by denying Fayetteville-Manlius its first-ever banner in 44-30 fashion.
It came in two parts. First, the Northstars pressed, suffocating the Hornets' perimeter to make up for Breanna Stewart's foul trouble. Then in the third quarter, Stewart returned and merely produced six blocks, shutting the door for good.
CNS really dominated the AA tournament, beating all of its opponents by double digits with just the right balance of Stewart's incomparable inside presence and the perimeter where Marybeth Egan unloaded 3s and Ashley Waldron got in your face.
When it was Class C's turn, Bishop Grimes and Little Falls waltzed through a 13-12 first half, but the Cobras pulled clear in the third quarter (this gets to be a pattern) with a 10-1 run where all the points came from bench players Ali Kelley and Cassidy Weeks.
It ended 42-32 in Grimes' favor, and they're a puzzle to face. Either try and take away the perimeter shots, as Little Falls did, or pack it in to stop Amanda Marcely and Tenley Pitonzo, as Mohawk did in the C-2 final - and it leads to 12 3-pointers, most of them from Brooke Bonacci or Amelia Heiselman.
Class D continued the Sackets Harbor-Hamilton saga. And whether it's 2008 or 2009, boys or girls, it doesn't seem to matter - the Patriots reign.
But this one really mattered, since Hamilton came in 21-0 and confident - only to leave beaten 52-41, and the signs were there all game long.
Sackets surged ahead late in the second quarter, capping it when Olivia Townsend hit a 30-footer at the halftime buzzer to build the lead to 30-21. When Hamilton pressed and threatened to catch up in the fourth quarter, it missed key free throws and, in response, Sackets made more treys - including one banked in at the shot-clock buzzer.
So by winning 52-41, the Patriots became the only repeat champion. By contrast, the final two winners on this night atoned for getting beat in this same round 12 months ago.
Cazenovia, like Grimes and Sackets, used the third quarter to get away from Clinton and win the Class B championship. What was a 21-16 margin turned into a romp thanks to 11 unanswered points and the usual amount of fierce Laker defense.
On the offensive side, Kiley Evans was free to get her 21 points because Ellen Burr, picking up more of the slack for the injured Ashley Stec, got 16 points. Caz used its overall athleticism to wear Clinton down.
And to cap off the night, Mexico overcame a mid-game slump to fight past Whitesboro 32-29 and earn the Class A championship. The Tigers, like Cazenovia, were holding the sectional banner for the first time.
Mexico only scored four points in the second quarter and trailed, 21-16, at the break. But again, the third quarter proved important as the Tigers outscored the Warriors 15-7, then held on down the stretch behind the Josbena twins.
As Mexico goes into two possible rounds of regional play, everyone else waits for Saturday. CNS and Cazenovia both play at Liverpool, while Bishop Grimes and Sackets Harbor travel to SUNY-Cortland. All want to get to Troy and play in the state final four.