When it plunged into the Section III Class B-2 playoffs, the Skaneateles girls basketball team had the express purpose of using its highly-regarded defense to register wins and go after a championship banner.
And that defense was on full display last Friday night at Baker High School in Baldwinsville, where the Lakers ousted no. 3 seed Canastota, 50-33, in the B-2 semifinals.
With that victory, Skaneateles advanced to Tuesday night's B-2 final at Cicero-North Syracuse against top seed Clinton. A win there would give the Lakers its first sectional title since 1982.
Head coach Bob Braunitzer said the core of his team has struggled for a long time to reach this summit in the program's history.
"This has been a three-year quest, and each year we got better," he said. "We have worked so hard to get to this point."
That hard work included a whole lot of advanced scouting. Braunitzer said his staff got to see Canastota play several times this season, and concluded that, to neutralize the Raiders' size advantage, it would need to keep the ball from getting inside to forwards Liz McGinley and Victoria Johnson.
This required a defensive mix. Mostly, the Lakers played in a 2-3 zone, but at times it would shift to full-court pressure, with both schemes designed to force Canastota to work outside more than it wanted.
Through a sloppy first half, that defense was effective, but Skaneateles still carried a modest 18-14 lead to the break. Braunitzer said that, in the locker room, he told his players to find another gear.
"We had to turn it up a little bit," said Braunitzer.
Once Caryn Crary and Brittany LaVaute hit on back-to-back 3-pointers to start the third quarter, turning it up wasn't a problem.
In fact, the Lakers didn't let up until it had put together a 14-0 run to start the second half, shutting out the Raiders for nearly five minutes during this spurt. Canastota never recovered.